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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Strangers

Jon Bilbao

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To purchase The Strangers

Title: The Strangers
Author: Jon Bilbao
Genre: Novel
Written: 2021 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Strangers - US
Los extraños - US
The Strangers - UK
The Strangers - Canada
Los extraños - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Dalkey Archive Press
  • Spanish title: Los extraños
  • Translated by Katie Whittemore

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Our Assessment:

B : effectively told

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 8/11/2022 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Bilbao delivers a thrilling account of a strange disruption to a couple’s monotonous life. (...) Bilbao makes palpable the household tension, as well as the obsession on the part of ufologists who flock to town in droves, and draws it all to a close with an exciting and unexpected ending. This account of strange visitors both terrestrial and extra is great fun." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Young couple Katharina and Jon have reached a way station in life. A mining engineer, Jon's most recent full-time job was in roller shutter installation, but he quit that and now writes entries for an encyclopedia; Katharina freelances as a translator and copyeditor. They've: "come to Ribadesella temporarily, to figure out our next step." They're staying at Jon's family's old home, which they have all to themselves for the time being, with longtime housekeeper Lorena cooking and cleaning up for them.
       They're fairly isolated -- "Jon doesn't have any friends in town. He left a long time ago" -- and seem in rather a rut, not very interested in the work they are doing. Their little bubble slowly bursts, however, when outside forces come into play. First, there are the unusual lights in the sky, coming from some objects flying overhead -- soon attracting ufologists to town, eagerly awaiting the return of what they are certain are celestial visitors. Even closer to home, Katharina and Jon get visitors: a couple shows up at their door, Virginia and Markel, with Markel explaining he is Jon's (second) cousin.
       Markel's grandfather moved to Chile, and that is where Markel is from. He gets himself and Virginia invited to stay for a bit -- noting, as to his plans:

Yes, I have a lot of plans. For the time being, we'll keep traveling, right Virginia ? Madrid, Sevilla, maybe Marrakesh, but we'll enjoy a few days with you guys first. Not long.
       But once in the house they do settle in easily -- and for the longer haul. A pile of luggage soon follows -- and they come with other baggage. They also manage to shoo Lorena away.
       Markel and Virginia seem friendly enough, but there's clearly something a bit off about them and the whole situation. Virginia admits that they're not on vacation -- Markel's "grandfather sent him out of the country until the situation calms down" -- and they're not actually a couple: Virginia is Markel's assistant and minder. She also takes over Lorena's duties, cooking and, to some extent, cleaning.
       The stay gets drawn out, and Jon and Katharina suspect there's more to it and them than Markel is letting on. They spy on the newcomers -- but the mysteries just deepen.
       The Strangers manages to be both casual and ominous -- much like the mystery-couple which stays and stays. Threat hangs in the air -- even if its nature remains largely shapeless. The rare warning only intensifies this sense, as when Markel tells Jon:
     "Be careful with Virginia," he says. "You guys don't want to see her angry. I have to admit, she scares me. She can be poisonous. Tell Katharina."
       But the poison that pervades the story is slow-acting -- and insidious. From the small, odd details -- Jon and Katharina realize: "Markel and Virginia never leave the house at the same time, unless Jon and Katharina go out as well" -- to animals around the household -- the dogs, a snake --, everything feels just a bit off.
       Bilbao gets the tone just right, and his set-up makes for a creepy novel of uncertain suspense, with small bits effectively layered on piece by piece. It's a pleasure to read, and nicely unsettling. So also Bilbao's resolution -- which is satisfying in its own way, but perhaps not of the kind that all readers will have hoped for.
       It's ultimately a bit of an odd work of suspense, in where Bilbao takes it, but overall certainly very solid.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 February 2023

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The Strangers: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Jon Bilbao was born in 1972.

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© 2023 the complete review

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