In her novel After the Winter, Guadalupe Nettel depicts solitude in its many forms—as a loveless affair, for example, or a one-bedroom apartment during an endless winter. First, we meet Claudio, who keeps everyone at a distance, including his older lover. He only shows tenderness to his Upper West Side apartment, which he prefers bare, free of any living thing. “Protecting it from any intruders,” he says, “is my way of honoring my sanctuary and of turning it . . . into the mausoleum where I would like to be buried for all eternity.” Then there is Cecilia, a Mexican student in Paris who lies awake at night, listening to her neighbor’s sobs. She turns toward the wall, as if to offer her ear, only to retreat into herself once it all becomes too much to bear. Nettel allows these stories to unfold separately, side-by-side, before they inevitably intersect. Her characters’ mental states are described with precise language, mirrored in Rosalind Harvey’s translation: “I was weighed down by the present,” Cecilia thinks to herself, “the lack of meaning in my own life, the enormous space between my breastbone and my back, never my own death, let alone old age, which I thought of as so far away.” There are many similarities between Cecilia and Claudio—their difficult childhoods in Oaxaca and Havana, their ruminations on death—but what most connects them here in After the Winter, what Nettel understands with such sensitivity, are the contradictory desires we have to both live alone in our apartments, our self-made mausoleums, and to escape them, to leave them behind and seek out human connection.

Coffee House Press.

—Review by Anna Vilner