Usually I read books because I am drawn to them by the premise, by the cultural setting, by an author’s intriguing background and experience which suggests to me they may have interesting insights to explore within a novel.
I hesitated about whether to read Die, My Love because of what I perceived as its intensity, I thought it might be depressing. The reviewer whom I expressed this too, responded:
I would say razor-sharp and brutally honest rather than depressing. No punches are pulled.
She was reviewing it, along with all the other titles long listed for the new Republic of Consciousness literary prize created by novelist Neil Griffiths to acknowledge and celebrate “small presses producing brilliant and brave literary fiction” published in the UK and Ireland.
When it was short listed for this prize and simultaneously long listed for the Man Booker International 2018, I decided to read it and find out, despite the earlier hesitation, similarly to the feeling I had about reading Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You: Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife.
We meet a young woman, a university educated foreigner, living in the French countryside with her husband and their small child, another on the way. She is lying in the grass, in 35°C (95°F) summer heat, thinking disturbing, violent thoughts against those around her, while expressing an acute, brutal self-hatred alongside an intense uncontrollable desire.
Blonde or dark? Whatever you’re having, my love. We’re one of those couples who mechanize the word ‘love’, who use it even when they despise each other. I never want to see you again, my love. I’m coming, I say, and I’m a fraud of a country woman with a red polka-dot skirt and split ends. I’ll have a blonde beer, I say in my foreign accent. I’m a woman who’s let herself go, has a mouth full of cavities and no longer reads. Read, you idiot, I tell myself, read one full sentence from start to finish.
It’s written in an urgent stream of consciousness narrative, focused on the minutiae of her day, much of it spent waiting for her husband to return from work, observing herself by turn, in her acts of taking care of and neglecting the needs of her helpless son, fantasizing about harming herself.
I throw out the heavy nappy and walk towards the patio doors. I always toy with the idea of going right through the glass and cutting every inch of my body, always aiming to pass through my own shadow. But just before I hit it, I stop myself and slide it open.
It’s a rendition of spiralling out of control, sometimes playing the part of mother, in front of friends on the odd occasion they’re invited to a birthday party or playing the daughter in law at a family gathering, but not too hard, because it is impossible, the insanity too close to be able to sustain any form of denial for too long a period of time.
When my husband’s away, every second of silence is followed by a hoard of demons infiltrating my brain.
If she’s not going crazy from the silence, she’s targeting the weak, aggressing the overweight nurse who comes to tend to the neighbour, acting haughty with the women working in the supermarket, the pizza delivery men, the manicurists.
I yell at them in public. I like to make a scene, humiliate them, show them how cowardly they are. Because that’s what they are: chickens. How come none of them have tried to fight me? How come none of them have called the authorities to have me deported?
As a reader, I can’t help asking questions, like, what is this? Is this postpartum depression? No, this was a pre-existing condition that started before she gave birth, that continued afterwards and seems never to have ended.
Is this the result of leaving her education, her intellectual self behind? Of embracing motherhood? Of being separated from her country, culture, her family, the way of her own people? Those things are never ever mentioned, never alluded too, never missed, there is no nostalgia for the past, only a visceral disgust for the present, a desire for a future where she is taken out, extinguished.
We were only just waking up from the weekend and already we were fighting. At half past eight I let out the first scream, at nine-twenty I threatened to leave, and at nine-fifty I said I’d make his life a living hell. By ten past ten, I was standing like a ram in the middle of the road with my straw hat on, suitcase in hand and flies in my eardrums.
She reflects that even were she to get hit and killed, it would unlikely gain her sympathy, that would be saved for her poor child, left without a mother.
No one grieves for the wretched woman with scarred arms who was consumed by the misery of life.
She blames desire, calls it a destructive hunger, an alarm, ferocious.
Not even digging a hole, a pit, would be enough. It needs to be thrown into the desert and devoured by wild beasts. Desire that is.
I waver between wondering if this is something a woman would experience if the circumstances are created that deprive her of the things she needs for sustenance, or is this a woman creating what she perceives as art, an art form that is designed to shock, to provoke a response in its audience.
In an interview by Jackie Law at Never Imitate, when asked about her inspiration, Ariana Harwicz responded:
Motherhood as a form of prison, a trap, an ordinary destiny. Writing the novel was a chance to escape that.
When asked about herself:
I always say that I was born when I wrote Die, My Love. Before then, I was alive, in the same way that everybody is alive, yet for me that is not really being alive. I had recently had a baby, I had moved to live in the countryside next to a forest. I would watch the thunderstorms, I would go horse-riding, but that was not life for me. And then I wrote Die, My Love, immersed in that desperation between death and desire. Die, My Love comes from that. I wasn’t aware I was writing a novel. I was not a writer, rather, I was saving myself, slowly lifting my head out of the swamp with each line.
In a podcast with the London Review Bookshop, she expressed interest first and foremost in the question ‘What is it, to be an artist?’, her response to her own question illuminating:
An artist, is someone is willing to break tradition, convention and transgress outside the norm
This is what she succeeds in doing in Die, My Love. She pursues it with intellectual vigour, with a bold, unapologetic, Argentinian energy that busts out of convention, leaves the old form of language and expression behind, takes her literary weapons into the forest and wreaks havoc on the page and in the mind of the reader.
Note: Thank you to Charco Press, independent publisher of contemporary Latin American literature, for providing an e-book.
I thought this was great – though, as you say, often brutal. I’m glad it’s achieved so much recognition.
I have to say I always wince when I read of women finding motherhood a trap or a prison… I always wonder what it must be like for the baby/child to have a mother who perceives their joint life together in such terms…maybe I’m not’ arty’ enough to value art like this !!!!
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This makes me think of The Yellow Wallpaper, but possibly more depressing because in The Yellow Wallpaper she embraced her insanity as a means of escape.
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There’s no denying the power or authenticity of this novel, but I must say I’m glad Ariana’s not my mother!
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