I received an Advance Uncorrected Proof of this book. All opinions are my own. On sale date: 5 May 2020.
Little Eyes walks a disconcerting line between horror and science fiction, existing in a world almost precisely like our own. The opening chapter demonstrates immediately the kind of book it is, with three teenage girls attempting to be the aggressors, only to find themselves unexpected victims.
The story revolves around a new fad, a sort of toy called a kentuki. Purchasers can choose to be either a “keeper” or a “dweller”. A keeper buys what looks like a stuffed toy on wheels – a dragon, a bunny, and a crow are just some of the animal options. The kentuki then lives in your house, moving around at will, a camera behinds its eyes. A dweller is someone who chooses to dwell inside that kentuki, controlling it on a tablet, watching through its eyes. The connections between keeper and dweller are completely random and each kentuki promises only a single connection.
The novel moves between these connections. Some we return to throughout the story, others receive only a chapter. Some of the kentuki connections seem sweet and beneficial, like Emilia and Eva, a middle-aged woman in Peru and a young woman in Germany, or Enzo in Italy who buys a mole kentuki to help him keep an eye on his son. Others are much darker immediately, like Grigor who finds a way to scam the market by operating multiple kentukis at once but doesn’t know what to do when one stumbles across a dark secret on the other side of the world.
There’s a broad variety of characters and locations throughout the novel and this points to what it’s really about: human nature and our need for connection. The thought that stayed in my head throughout reading this book was that I would never, ever, ever allow a complete stranger such access into my life and who are the people that would? While this story certainly hasn’t swayed my opinion it did reveal why someone might purchase such an item, were it to exist. Many of the characters are lonely, cast aside in some way by the people they care about. Some, especially the younger ones, are seeking adventure, searching for the things they can’t find in their physical world. It’s not that different from people who live complex second lives on the internet. And now, in this age of social isolation, something like a kentuki feels all the more realistic.
As I said, the book was disconcerting and for that reason I’m not sure I would seek out more of Schweblin’s work but it speaks well of her writing that it has stuck with me in the days since I finished reading it.
This book was translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell.