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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Talking to Ourselves

Andrés Neuman

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Title: Talking to Ourselves
Author: Andrés Neuman
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 148 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Talking to Ourselves - US
Hablar solos - US
Talking to Ourselves - UK
Talking to Ourselves - Canada
Talking to Ourselves - India
Parler seul - France
Parlare da soli - Italia
Hablar solos - España
  • Spanish title: Hablar solos
  • Translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia

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Our Assessment:

B : decent, if not entirely convincing novel of grief and communication

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 31/1/2014 Jane Housham
The Independent A 15/2/2014 Lucy Popescu
Publishers Weekly . 23/12/2013 .
TLS . 4/4/2014 Jessica Loudis

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is writing of a quality rarely encountered, which actually feels as though it touches on reality, translating something experienced into words, without loss of detail or clarity." - Jane Housham, The Guardian

  • "(A) profound meditation on illness, death and bereavement and brilliantly illustrates literature’s ability to help readers confront and understand mortality. (...) Impeccably translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia, Talking To Ourselves is a wonderfully articulate novel about a vast and painful subject." - Lucy Popescu, The Independent

  • "Appealing to both intellect and emotion, this splendid novel from Neuman grapples with important questions and features well-developed, nuanced characters." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Talking to Ourselves is a slim novella that’s neither a road story nor a grief memoir, though it inhabits and distends both genres. Its main concern is death in all its complexity -- as a source of anger and eroticism, of messiness and sorrow, of shame and self-loathing, and as a thing to be resisted (and possibly defied) through writing. (...) The book does not attempt to find coherence beyond each narrator’s individual account, which is precisely what makes it so affecting." - Jessica Loudis, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Talking to Ourselves is three-voiced novel, alternating chapters presenting the perspectives of a husband and father, Mario, a wife and mother, Elena, and their son, Lito. While written in the first person, these are not entirely interior monologues: for all the 'talking to ourselves' each of the characters does, they constantly mention and describe their conversations and exchanges (via telephone texting, for example) with each other ("hey, son, hey, are you listening to me or not ? Yes, yes, I reply"); occasionally they'll even address each other ("Dear Mario", Elena writes -- albeit with no expectations of a response). Yet even here the failures of communication and connection are made all too clear -- Lito, for example, repeatedly noting how he only hears or understands parts of the exchanges between his parents, or Elena confused by the abbreviations Lito uses in his text messages.
       The novel begins with a terminally ill Mario wanting to take his ten-year-old son on one last father-and-son road trip. Each of the characters deals with the present-day situation differently: Mario just wants to give his son a good memory of time spent together; Elena tries to deal with her husband's rapid decline (and the looming drastic change in her life); and Lito is kept in the dark (and ultimately sent away to live with the grandparents as Mario's decline accelerates).
       Elena's sections are by far the most compelling, as she is well and truly torn by what is happening. She admits: "As I write this I despise myself, but sometimes Mario's body disgusts me" -- and, when Mario takes the kid on the road, she goes wild with a doctor, Ezequiel (who: "suggests we do things that, until only recently, I would have considered reportable" -- things she then seems to enjoy losing herself in).
       The Elena sections are also interesting because she chooses not to always speak for herself. As she explains:

     When a book tells me something I was trying to say, I feel the right to appropriate its words, as if they had once belonged to me and I were taking them back.
       She frequently appropriates words and thoughts in this way -- mentioning and quoting from about two dozen authors and books (helpfully listed in a bibliography at the end of the book), including works by César Aira, John Banville, Christian Bobin, Ana María Matute, Flannery O'Connor, and Cynthia Ozick.
       Talking to Ourselves is an unusual novel about the difficulties of communication. Neuman presents much fairly obviously, such as Lito's complaint as he listens to his father talking to his mother on the phone, hearing just his father's "yes yes, no no, I know I know": "I don't like the way he gets all serious when he talks to her. I'm worried they're talking about me". Yet Neuman stretches his narrative a bit thin with its three voices and three very different perspectives, each drawn in different directions (apart, appropriately enough).
       Worse than any lack of communication is all the lying and dissimulation going on: first and foremost, Lito isn't told what's really happening to his father (and Lito is simply packed off when dad lies dying), but they rarely manage to be completely honest with each other anyway. It's something they worry about -- Mario even explicitly ruminates on the question: "is it okay to lie ?" -- and they only open up in their personal monologues.
       At one point Elena complains about her parents (the ones she sends Lito to !):
They raised me in an atmosphere of tolerance, respect, and communication. In other words, they left me alone with my traumas.
       She still feels largely left alone with these -- finding some escape in wild abandon (with the friendly doctor) but otherwise still flailing.
       Talking to Ourselves is a decent novel of death-in-the-family and how it affects the different parties, but it doesn't completely convince -- in part because the three voices, and especially Mario and Lito, have a manufactured feel to them. The Elena sections are more successful (and certainly more interesting), but it doesn't all come together particularly well. For a novel dealing with passion, dying, and death Talking to Ourselves isn't particularly poignant or moving, either, Neuman's approach sapping most of the emotion: what there is feels, like so many of Elena's words and thoughts, second-hand.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 April 2014

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Talking to Ourselves: Reviews: Andrés Neuman: Other books by Andrés Neuman under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Andrés Neuman was born in Argentina in 1977 and grew up in Spain.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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