Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz

This intense Argentinian novella, originally published in 2012 and nominated for this year’s Republic of Consciousness and Man Booker International Prizes, is an inside look at postpartum depression as it shades into what looks like full-blown psychosis. We never learn the name of our narrator, just that she’s a foreigner living in France (like Harwicz herself) and has a husband and young son. The stream-of-consciousness chapters are each composed of a single paragraph that stretches over two or more pages. From the first page onwards, we get the sense that this character is on the edge: as she’s hanging laundry outside, she imagines a sun shaft as a knife in her hand. But for now she’s still in control. “I wasn’t going to kill them. I dropped the knife and went to hang out the washing like nothing had happened.”

Not a lot happens over the course of the book; what’s more important is to be immersed in this character’s bitter and perhaps suicidal or sadistic outlook. But there are a handful of concrete events. Her father-in-law has recently died, so she tells of his funeral and what she perceives as his sad little life. Her husband brings home a stray dog that comes to a bad end. Their son attends a children’s party and they take along a box of pastries that melt in the heat.

The only escape from this woman’s mind is a chapter from the point of view of a neighbor, a married radiologist with a disabled daughter who passes her each day on his motorcycle and desires her. With such an unreliable narrator, though, it’s hard to know whether the relationship they strike up is real. This woman is racked by sexual fantasies, but doesn’t seem to be having much sex; when she does, it’s described in disturbing terms: “He opened my legs. He poked around with his calloused hands. Desire is the last thing there is in my cries.”

The language is jolting and in-your-face, but often very imaginative as well. Harwicz has achieved the remarkable feat of showing a mind in the process of cracking up. It’s all very strange and unnerving, and I found that the reading experience required steady concentration. But if you find the passages below intriguing, you’ll want to seek out this top-class translation from new Edinburgh-based publisher Charco Press. It’s the first book in what Harwicz calls “an involuntary trilogy” and has earned her comparisons to Virginia Woolf.

“My mind is somewhere else, like I’ve been startled awake by a nightmare. I want to drive down the road and not stop when I reach the irrigation ditch.”

“I take off my sleep costume, my poisonous skin. I recover my sense of smell and my eyelashes, go back to pronouncing words and swallowing. I look at myself in the mirror and see a different person to yesterday. I’m not a mother.”

“The look I’m going for is Zelda Fitzgerald en route to Switzerland, and not for the chocolate or watches, either.”

My rating:

 

Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff. My thanks to the publisher for the free copy for review.

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14 thoughts on “Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz

    1. Usually the adjective “experimental” would have me running away from a book, but I’m glad I took a chance on this one. I like pictures of mental illness from the inside, and the voice here was very distinctive.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Sounds interesting, but tough. I feel like modern-day parlance has strayed so far from stream of consciousness–we’re all about sound bites and snippets these days–I might have to try it, just to see if I can get through it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If this was any longer than novella length (~120 pages) I would definitely have struggled, but the chapters were short and sharp enough that I could read a few at a time and not get too bogged down.

      Like

  2. I’ll definitely second what the others have said, i.e. this probably isn’t for me, however it does sound great and I’m all for facing my fears. Though if you had to concentrate in reading I don’t have much hope at the moment

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I struggle with books where the narrative is substantially distorted by a narrator suffering from mental illness (or organic diseases like dementia) but I’m still intrigued, especially as this deals with post-natal psychosis, which I certainly think there should be more on.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think I’d like this. It can’t be any more overwhelming than the stream of consciousness in Adjacentland, which is 300 pages! It also reminds me a little of Days of Abandonment – the woman in that book was also losing it a little when her husband left her.

    Liked by 1 person

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