In parallel and entwining stories that move from Havana to Paris to New York City, no routine, no argument for the pleasures of solitude, can withstand our most human drive to find ourselves in another, and fall in love. And no depth of emotion can protect us from love's inevitable loss.
It seems at first that After the Winter, which follows two lovers from long before they meet through the years after, departs considerably from Nettel’s earlier obsessions with animals, insects, and the horror of the body. Yet it’s still recognizably Nettelian in its crisp, straightforward sentences that build and build until profundity, or profound sentiment, sneaks up on the reader ... Mentally and physically ill bodies are everywhere in After the Winter. They are unavoidable ... It’s what places her not only within a pantheon of writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and Juan Rulfo who make death and life collide in exceedingly quotidian plots but also within a broader frame of queer literature, even though she has never claimed such a mantle ... Nettel’s tone may be clinical, but that doesn’t mean it’s detached; sometimes the only way to be intimate with one’s body is to study it, to observe it from a distance and treat it gently, as if it’s a patient ... It can be easy to fall into the trap of treating one’s body as a vessel for suffering only. But if the body contains suffering, Nettel seems to be saying...it can also give birth to contentment, joy, and arousal ... This is what lasts after reading one of her books—and what will likely make her an author whose works last well beyond the body that produces them.
Guadalupe Nettel’s novel After the Winter, her third book of fiction translated from Spanish into English, is a trenchant, subtle story about two people struggling with companionship and isolation. The novel is narrated in short, alternating chapters by the Cuban-born Claudio and the Mexican-born Cecilia, who tell us about their compulsions and relationships (or lack of relationships). Eventually their narratives intertwine, with surprising results. The novel moves with ease between New York, Paris, Havana and Oaxaca. Nettel, born in Mexico, has spent much of her life abroad, though she’s currently based in Mexico City. Her writing, in an excellent translation by Rosalind Harvey, is spare, occasionally eerie and always elegant. Her investigation of love and solitude, and what these two states can mean, is shaded by her protagonists’ unconventional behavior, contributing to the novel’s distinctive exploration of its age-old subjects and its moving interplay of humor and sadness.
Believe what you want to about the order of things, by all means, but I think we need the ironic reality check of books like Guadalupe Nettel’s After the Winter from time to time. It is a love story, an all too real love story, not because of how it ends, but because of how its characters truly live ... We see [protagonists Claudio's and Cecilia's] worlds collide, an event not entirely unexpected but one which plays out in a way that I definitely did not see coming and yet which, in hindsight, felt inevitable and natural. Most of all, we see how these characters, so very different from one another despite some mutual interests, deal with moments of bare vulnerability, of life being capricious and unfair in multiple ways ... After the Winter treats the heady intersection of topics with a mature honesty that is surprisingly rare in literature ... it is still possible for these emotional themes and character studies to fall flat on their faces if the writing isn’t doing them justice, and Nettel handles all of it beautifully. Her style is wonderfully efficient without losing a hint of intelligence, and the effect of this is a book that, while by no means small, is paced so well that you can devour it in a single evening if you are not mindful of the time ... It is powerful and fun and, at times, devastating in the most meaningful ways.