Named Best Argentinian Novel of 2012 by the daily La Nacíon.
Nominated for the Edinburgh Book Festival First Novel award
Translated from Spanish by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff
So the thing about Edinburgh Book Festival is the discovery of new-to-me books in their pop-up bookshop … and there were many this year. (I’ll tell you all about the ones that came home with me when Rossetti isn’t looking.) A number of these started their journey to my library from the shelves dedicated to the Edinburgh Book Festival First Novel Award.
The contents of these shelves change throughout the festival. Harwicz’s novel wasn’t there on day one. I think I read a tweet saying copies arrived about 3 hours before her event. I wasn’t at her event either, but I decided to read this novel first from my #edbookfest purchases so that I could sneak in a last minute review for both #spanishlitmonth and #WITmonth.
Why did I buy it? Title, title, title. I imagined some kind of schizophrenic virago snarling the first word, then, after sticking the knife in, caressing her victim with soft sweet nothings ….
Well, not being a psychologist, I can’t confirm whether the female protagonist is schizophrenic, sociopathic or even psychopathic, but she is definitely unhinged, nay, severely unhinged …
and, because this novel is written in 1st person, there were times when I was unhinged myself! I couldn’t recognise the world at all through her eyes. At first there was no common ground, just weird, animalistic behaviour complete with sexual fantasies that turned out (I think) to be anything but fantasy. But gradually, an external reference, an expression of resentment, and I realised that this is a world seen through the prism and alienation of severe post-natal depression.
The woman’s story can only be put together retrospectively as Harwicz throws the reader right into her crisis. First sentence:
I lay back in the grass among fallen trees and the sun on my palm felt like a knife I could use to bleed myself dry with one swift cut to the jugular.
There’s the knife of my imaginings, but it made me question which love was to die. Because with a title like that, something’s going to end badly. And Harwicz kept me guessing.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the woman’s story but she is an educated woman, now living in the countryside with her husband and son. Bored. In a downward spiral that is accelerating. The birth of her son precipitating, if not completing, an absolute loss of self.
It’s not easy on her, her husband (who really does try to help her), her son (for whom I was truly afeared) or for the reader. That 1st person narrative – it’s not a stream of consciousness, more a stream of existence. Reality, fantasy, insanity, hallucination, smidgeons of logical thought, blended into an unchronological narrative. Challenging. I’d say exhilarating (if the subject matter wasn’t so dark.) Told in short, sharp passages, meaning the reader can come up for air, even if the protagonist and her family cannot.
A book that will reward a second reading, if I dare brave its intensity again.
Die, My Love is one of the first of titles to be published by Charco Press, a new publisher based in Edinburgh, whose remit is to “select authors whose works feed the imagination, challenge perspective and spark debate. Authors that are shining lights in the world of contemporary literature. Authors whose works have won awards and received critical acclaim. Bestselling authors. Yet authors you perhaps have never heard of. Because none of them have been published in English. Until now,”
Not everything they publish will be for me, but I will definitely keep a close eye on what they do.