In the 1970s, the artist Salvador Dalí was commissioned to create a tarot deck for the James Bond film “Live and Let Die.” The deal fell through, but Dalí continued to work on the cards, casting himself as the Magician and his wife, Gala, as the Empress. Inspired by the raw, dreamlike language of Delacroix, Duchamp and Surrealism, Dalí married the hallucinatory with the concrete, the esoteric with the commonplace and the disturbing with the beautiful to create images that feel both ethereal and visceral.
This is the vibe of Mariana Enriquez’s startlingly brilliant new novel, “Our Share of Night.” Epic in scope — it is 600 pages long — the narrative explores the founding families of the Cult of the Shadow, also known as the Order, an international secret society of wealthy occultists seeking to preserve consciousness after death. The hunt for immortality leads them to do the unthinkable.
Three families “of blood” — the Bradfords, the Reyeses and the Mathers — dominate the tale, in particular one of the heirs of the Order, Rosario Reyes Bradford, along with her partner Juan and their son Gaspar. Juan and Gaspar have divine gifts the Order covets: They are mediums with an ability to summon “the Darkness,” described variously as a mouth feeding on human life and a shape-shifting presence that enshrouds like a shadow, ripping away limbs and swallowing people whole. The Darkness is a contradictory force, one that brings life and death, something both obscure and “lustrous.”
The burden of communication with the Darkness is heavy. “Mediums didn’t last long,” Juan thinks when speculating about Gaspar’s gifts. “The contact with ancient gods destroyed them physically and mentally. Some died in the first contact, or very soon after. Most of them went irrevocably mad very quickly. There was no magic or ritual or science that could relieve them.”
But Juan, despite a congenital heart disorder, has survived exposure to the Darkness, and is desperate to protect his son from the Order. Their interdependence — Juan’s need to protect Gaspar and Gaspar’s growing need to understand his powers — forms the bright, hot center of the novel, a big bang that begets scintillating peripheral constellations in an ever-expanding universe of lore, myth, migrations, massacres, demonology, the sadistic torture of “destroyed children,” sigils and signs, biographies of dead mediums and the sacrifice of initiates. The novel moves from 1980s Argentina to 1960s London, then back to Argentina in the 1990s. It expresses the horrors of Argentina’s disappeared, and the struggle to survive in the shadow of such a void.
Amid such magnitudes, Juan stands out. He’s a gorgeous character, a “magical androgyne” who is attractive to both women and men. Besieged by the dead, he hears “the echoes of murdered people with blindfolded eyes, feet bound, some with their faces or whole bodies swollen, others who dragged themselves along in burlap sacks, a legion he could not make disappear.” Locked down by his gift, tortured by it, Juan has also gained a position of power in the Order. To them, he is indispensable.
That is not true for Rosario. She’s a woman of blood, a descendant of the Order and also an anthropologist specializing in the Guaraní, an oppressed tribe. Her academic research is layered throughout the novel, weaving the atrocities of Argentine history with those of the Order. It is an unholy tangle, one Rosario can’t escape. In one of the most psychologically acute moments in the novel, she must choose between doing the Order’s bidding or saving her son. Juan says to her, “Do I have to save Gaspar alone? … Can’t I make you change?” What Enriquez means is, Can a person step out of history? Is change possible? Can future generations create a world untainted by the brutalities of the past?
Not if the Order can help it. They are most ruthless with their own, especially when it comes to finding a new medium. One such tragedy occurs when Eddie, a boy of blood, is driven mad by the Order. Juan lures Eddie into the Other Place, “a zone of the Darkness that the order didn’t know about,” strings him up in a tree, and bends his left leg, shaping him into a manifestation of the tarot’s Hanged Man. “Some version of the Tarot left the hands loose, but there in the Other Place it seemed appropriate to respect the traditional version.” One can’t help thinking of Dalí’s version of the Hanged Man, a human pendulum swinging in a midnight forest, dressed in baroque costume as the night encroaches. Like Dalí’s card, Eddie’s death has the force of a vision.
Because Juan, Gaspar and Rosario are such magnetic characters, the narrative tends to slacken when Enriquez moves away from them. There are digressions that can feel gratuitous, such as pages of Rosario’s shopping and acid trips in London and the exploits of Gaspar’s childhood friends. And yet, even these moments build, becoming minor notes in an incantation. “Our Share of Night” is a mouthpiece for human darkness that, like Dalí’s cards, reveals the unspeakable. It is an enchanting, shattering, once-in-a-lifetime reading experience.
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