Leo Boix reviews Die, My Love, by Ariana Harwicz (Charco Press, £9.99)
The unnamed protagonist, a young woman living in rural isolation in France, battles with the daily trappings of motherhood as well as her complex desires and sexual fantasies.
A seemingly happy birthday party can turn into a family crisis, an innocent trip to the beach into a sexual embarrassment and a mundane conversation with her mother-in-law or her conventional husband into the most surreal of experiences.
The sense of otherness and physical danger is omnipresent, as is the woman’s desire to free herself from the constraints and banalities of married life and to escape to freedom in a nearby wood — a place real and at times imaginary — where mushrooms, pine trees and stags populate a magic world of her own creation.
The rapid pace, evoked by the stream-of-consciousness narrative technique used in the past by Latin American writers such as Clarice Lispector and Diamela Eltit and the beautiful lyricism of the work is crafted by Harwicz to explore the violent and despairing inner battle played out so potently.
At times the novel, beautifully translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff, reminded me of the painting by surrealist artist Dorothea Tanning, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. In it a girl, whose hair flies upwards as though struck by a violent gust of wind, looks at a giant sunflower while engaged in a never-ending battle with unknown forces.
In Die, My Love, those inner forces confront the protagonist in her daily experiences of maternal and filial love and of isolation and trauma, struggles that end in near madness.
The language, in all its intricacies and splendour, destabilises and destroys preconceived ideas of womanhood in what is an uncanny and powerful novel in which the extraordinary forces at play ultimately leave the reader in a state of bewilderment — and utter exhilaration.