Novel by the Italian writer Viola Di Grado

Di Grado fulfills the physical mechanics of sex alongside sex as a form of “language substitute”, something that replaces verbal language, and creates a masterful narrative that conveys the ecstasy of new love: “It’s as if something inside me, what had been struggling for so long had finally subsided,” says Ruben.

“I saw her hunger as a form of love. I saw every invasion as a form of love.”

Ruben, the main character in Blue Hunger, on why she loved being eaten by mosquitoes

Physical interventions make her feel loved. At the beginning of the novel, Ruben describes how, as a little girl, in the summer she opened the windows, turned on all the lights, and stretched out her arms and legs so mosquitoes could eat her alive. “I saw her hunger as a form of love,” she boasts. “I saw every invasion as a form of love.”

Recent novels by young women authors offer us new ways of imagining the female body, allowing female characters to reinvent sex on their own terms, as in Raven Leilanis chandelieror use sex as a vehicle to discover metaphysical truths about oneself, as in Sarah Thankam Mathews’ All this could be different.

Like the heroines in both novels, Ruben is painfully aware of what she is doing. “She wanted to destroy me,” she confesses to her lover. “I didn’t care if Xu’s ghost was a racer who might suddenly slide into a ditch. I didn’t care if she was crazy, out of control. I wanted to be the bumpy asphalt it slid on.”


blue hunger is a breezy but dizzying feverish dream of reading. The narrator’s voice is deceptively quiet. The book feels like it has a flame illuminating it from below. It moves with a steady, compact agility, like a ship heading for battle at sea.

In this case, the battle is the narrative’s main crisis point: will Ruben stay and continue to be emotionally gutted by Xu? Or will she envision another life, severing the organic ties she felt to Xu and the city? The final scene is a spectacular performance that manages to be both unexpected and exquisitely tender.

blue hunger from Viola Di Grado (trans., Jamie Richards) is edited by Scribes, $27.99.

The Booklist is a weekly newsletter for book lovers from book editor Jason Steger. Get it delivered every Friday. Novel by the Italian writer Viola Di Grado

Jaclyn Diaz

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