Book Review: Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin

Little Eyes – Samanta Schweblin (Riverhead Books, 2020)

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.

16 thoughts on “Book Review: Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin”

  1. I’m intrigued by your description of this book as walking a “disconcerting line between horror and science fiction”! And the concept of the kentuki gives me the creeps, but in a way that makes me want to find out more. I’ve always found methods of surveillance hair-raising and invasive. I’m going to put this on my TBR. Fantastic review.

    1. Thanks! The whole idea creeps me out too but it also feels unnervingly realistic and there are plenty of more subtle ways in which we allow surveillance into our lives currently. I hope you enjoy it when you do read it!

  2. Great review and what a premise! Sounds intriguing, while it also undoubtedly satirises our obsession with modern technology that keeps tabs on us and sometimes knows more about our daily activities than we do. Scary stuff – I will definitely put this book on my TBR, thanks!

  3. The idea of allowing myself to be observed by a stranger sounds very much like horror, but then I’m always amazed at the things people happily reveal about themselves online, especially young people! I do however understand the temptation to be the observer, which worries me a bit now I’ve said it… 😉

    1. I feel the same; I suspect some of the difference comes between the generations that grew up before the internet and those who reached adulthood afterward. When I was a teenager and the internet was new we were bombarded with warnings about predators and kidnappers and I still feel that caution over my shoulder now! I do kind of understand the appeal of being the watcher in one of these things because I do think there’s a natural bit of the voyeur in each of us!

  4. I’m with you in your skepticism about whether people would actually want one of these devices. I get that the person who has one may feel connected, but can they interact? If not, isn’t this more like having a pet that isn’t alive?

    1. Some of the characters interact and others don’t. It’s rather creative the means they figure out to be able to talk to each other. It’s like a stuffed animal that isn’t alive but also there’s a real person (a stranger!) watching you. I would 100% rather have a dog.

  5. What a fascinating premise for a novel! I’m surprised something like this hasn’t been invented yet actually. LIke you, I shudder at the thought of buying some like this BUT I have no doubt it would be insanely popular-especially now! And realistically, we have lots of items in our home that are similar already-all the microphones and cameras on our phones and computers for instance-yikes! haha

    1. It’s creepy but also almost believable and that makes it creepier. I would never have this in my house but then I think about the way the ads I get on-line are so targeted to me. And yes, it feels even more like something people would buy into right now while we’re all staying at home.

  6. Great review, I’m so looking forward to reading this one! I love really bizarre and haunting books and this sounds like a perfect match for me. Plus, I’ve read and loved Schweblin’s Fever Dream and have been eager to pick up more of her work. That one’s also bizarre and haunting so I’m not sure I’d recommend it if you’re looking for less disconcerting books.

    But I am glad you mentioned that Little Eyes tries to explain why people would volunteer to have these devices watching them, I was so confused by that part of the synopsis because I can’t imagine giving someone that much access to my life either!

    1. I think you’d enjoy this, especially if you enjoy bizarre and haunting reads. And while I wasn’t convinced that this was something I would want in my home, Schweblin did convince me that there could be a market for such an item.

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