A young mother living in the French countryside is driven to madness.
Longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, Argentinian author Harwicz’s first novel translated into English follows an unnamed mother heading toward a full mental breakdown. Living in a foreign (to her) countryside with her husband and young son, she feels at odds with every part of her life: her body, home, neighbors, desires, and mind. In a flashback of her pregnancy, she thinks “I’m one person, my body is two.” Her inability to balance being a mother and maintaining a sense of self beats incessantly at the heart of the novel. Her husband finds himself unable to understand, live with, and care for a wife struggling with severe depression. The erratic, stream-of-consciousness narrative provides a window into her crumbling state of mind. Both attacker and the attacked, she often feels like a cornered animal: “But I felt his gaze like a kitchen knife on my throat each time he came closer.” She spends much of the novel wondering what would be the worst case scenario for herself: living or dying. She fears the latter, not for herself, but for her son: “At most they’d sympathise a bit, but not with me. With the little boy who’s now motherless….No one grieves for the wretched woman with scarred arms who was consumed by the misery of life.” Unrestrained and unadorned, Harwicz’s writing has a wild beauty: “The sun began to set over their heads, the gentle light of dusk slowly tinting their bodies”; “I let the balsam of desire carry me away.” There’s a small sliver of light at the end of the novel, which is a much-needed exhale for both protagonist and reader.
A portrait of motherhood, passion, and mental illness that cuts to the bone.