Imminence is the title of a newly translated novel from the Argentinian writer Mariana Dimópulos. It is also a word that can allude to, among other things, impending danger or evil. In this tense and deeply unsettling novel, the impending event is reached through a fragmentary and metaphorical narrative reminiscent of the lyric essay. There is also, for me, something distinctly Latin American in this novel’s intellectual confidence and edgy poetics.
The narrator of Imminence is a new mother who has had a traumatic birthing experience. While the narrative is grounded in the apartment she shares with her current partner and child, the action frequently cuts to the past, in which we meet her former partners, friends and family. Her female friends, espousing feminist principles while hiding their desire for men and children, are particularly important. The narrator, who uses the refrain “I’m not one of those women”, struggles to understand herself as a woman in relation to her female networks, her various male lovers and, later, her child. That struggle is deep, intangible and complex.
To dissociate from this complexity, the narrator often resorts to logic and mathematics. We see this in the narrative voice too, which is emotionless and almost disembodied, in a way that resembles the voice in Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy. This style is also justified by the narrator’s “oath to always tell the truth”. We read – in a passage that shows the skill with metaphor of both Dimópulos and her English translator, Alice Whitmore – “the moment she verged into romanticism she fought it, quickly, like a fencer”. And the narrator is indeed a ruthless observer, describing her partner’s happiness as “a luxurious object – a feathered hat, for example, or an engraved ring – in a shop window”.
Certainly, happiness seems out of immediate reach for this new mother. Her descriptions of her infant son are brilliantly defamiliarising. Reproduction is a kind of “duplication”, leading to an experience of the mother having “two hearts and two stomachs”. Meanwhile, the parent’s task is “to emend, to console, to convince” the crying newborn.
I can’t think of too many Australian writers – with the exception of Carrie Tiffany (whose new novel, Exploded View, is something else) and Maria Tumarkin – who are working with this level of formal fearlessness and with such a brutal commitment to illuminating something difficult.
Giramondo, 176pp, $24.95
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 30, 2019 as "Mariana Dimópulos, Imminence". Subscribe here.