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Claire Messud on Valeria Luiselli

Amid the many rapturous responses to Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive, Claire Messud has taken to the NYRB with a more sceptical view of the novel:

[The second half] of the narrative is suspenseful, but its progression and resolution make clear that we are in the realm of consoling — and not entirely convincing — fantasy rather than in that of truth. The children’s trajectory is interspersed, ever more heavily, with the fictional novel-within-a-novel, Elegies for Lost Children. Before the children’s departure, their mother has realized that “they are the ones who are telling the story of the lost children. They’ve been telling it all along, over and over again in the back of the car”; appropriately, then, her stepson ultimately manages — as if, of narrative necessity, living out his stepmother’s projection — to conflate his and his sister’s story with that of the children in the Elegies. In embarking on their journey, they are seeking the actual lost children (the two young sisters from Guatemala); they have themselves become lost children; and the lost children in the Elegies seem real to the boy. This melding culminates in the boy’s extended, highly literary first-person stream-of-consciousness section near the novel’s end. … This bow to modernism — the passage is drawn from a sentence that continues for almost twenty pages — is but one of the novel’s many stylistic intricacies. Its intention is clear (to unite, through the boy’s voice, all the lost children), yet its effect is not ultimately transcendent.