Empty Houses: a captivating debut from a writer to watch

Brenda Navarro uses dual narratives to explore missing children and dark maternity

Brenda Navarro: Her novel makes the desperate world of missing persons vividly clear, with the ineptitude of the authorities in a country overrun with crime.

Brenda Navarro: Her novel makes the desperate world of missing persons vividly clear, with the ineptitude of the authorities in a country overrun with crime.

The tagline for Brenda Navarro’s debut describes Empty Houses as a novel about abduction that asks: is motherhood the greatest crime of all? This is an intriguing question that doesn’t quite get unpacked in the story that follows. But Navarro does succeed in painting two very different pictures of motherhood, both deeply troubled in their own ways, in the book’s split narratives.

The first perspective engages from the beginning: a middle-class Mexican woman whose autistic toddler, Daniel, disappeared some months earlier in a local park. Traumatised by his absence and by her own ambivalence to motherhood, the narrator tells a searing tale of a woman who thought motherhood might be a remedy to an unsatisfactory life and now believes she is paying the ultimate price.

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