Amora by Natalia Borges Polesso review – stories of love between women

Holly Williams

Finding it hard to concentrate? Progress on that doorstep novel you promised you’d read when you had the chance not going so well? You could do worse than pick up a copy of Amora.

Natalia Borges Polesso’s short story collection won several literary prizes in Brazil after it was published in 2015, and is here given a springy translation by Julia Sanches. There’s a lot to love in these 33 stories of love between women – and they really are short. Fun-sized, you might say, some only a paragraph long. A few are so skimpy they’re more like writing exercises; it feels indulgent to include them. But many more are swift in delivering nuanced snapshots of heartbreak, tenderness, embarrassment, and desire.

Polesso’s writing is brisk and fresh, and she captures the bleak human comedy of the myriad ways we mess up when it comes to matters of the heart. Her women often have a hefty sense of self-loathing, and a drily pained view of the world.

But Polesso can be sweet too. She offers windows into the private worlds created by long-term lovers; Marila Wakes Up, about an elderly couple still navigating how to show affection, is especially touching. Occasionally, however, the form becomes a little too cute in Polesso’s hands: she’s fond of tying stories off with a sentimental moment, like a neat bow.

I prefer it when she turns to moments of embarrassment and awkwardness. She’s particularly acute on how we feel these physically: the cringe at falling down stairs in front of an ex (“You splat on the ground. You fear being the object of ridicule and lie still, slumped”); the “deathly heat” that climbs up a neck “making the area behind my ears hurt” when someone fears they’re about to be outed. While Amora is an enjoyable collection to dip into, many stories ripple with the ingrained fear and shame that comes from feeling you have to keep your sexuality hidden.

Amora by Natalia Borges Polesso (translated by Julia Sanches) is published by Amazon Crossing (£19.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p over £15