Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba

Book Review by Alan Bett | 31 Jul 2017
  • Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba
Book title: Such Small Hands
Author: Andrés Barba, translated by Lisa Dillman

Children can be so cruel. Easy when there's no perception of consequence. Perhaps that’s why they're a tool horror uses to tap into primal fears: we lament our own loss of innocence or shun those uncivilised things we once were. To cut through the psychology, kids are creepy little bastards.

Exhibit A: Andrés Barba’s Such Small Hands, where he takes us through the looking glass into a consciousness bordering on psychosis, or the mindset of a child. There are hints of Something Wicked this Way Comes in the blend of fantasy and terror that forms this worldview, but Barba’s tale is inspired by truth – a horrific incident in 1960s Brazil where a girl was killed by others at an orphanage, who then played with her body parts for a week. 

Thankfully, Barba plots a more psychological course in his fairly bloodless Gothic horror. Seven-year-old Marina is sent to a girls home after a fatal accident leaves her parentless. While her comfortable background distances her from the other girls, they obsess after her dangerously. She is god, monster and sacrifice.

It's a novella about many things, among them trauma, loss and longing, but most of all about simply being a child. Lisa Dillman fluidly translates impeccable literary technique, most notable when the girls – without parents to draw the lines within which their lives should be lived – speak in their anonymous first person plural, a sinister Greek chorus. They are legion.

Out 3 Aug, published by Portobello Books, RRP £9.99