Book Review

Mothers Don’t by Katixa Agirre

If you do not feel or even believe in love, then how and why would you bring others into the nightmare that is existence?

cw: infanticide, transphobia, inequality, depression, suicide ideation, neglect, abuse (generally it’s a heavy one, hence the December 23rd publication date, merry winter break, TotN readers!!!)

3TimesRebel Press is a new British indie, and – had I clocked this before purchasing the book – it is explicitly feminist and not explicitly trans inclusive, which means that unless the people involved in the press are both so genuinely progressive and (not or) too fresh to understand the right wing disgrace that is contemporary British social politics, it may well be a transphobic publishing venture. To use the word “women” so repeatedly (in the UK at least) has become a dog whistle for queerphobic rhetoric, as can be seen within moments of opening Twitter (a billionaire’s “free speech” vanity project app) any time, any day of the week.

I’m opening with this as it’s important.

Transphobia is famously – and in an increasingly documented fashion – used as a gateway into far right radicalisation; it is a tool as effective for recruitment of certain demographics as blunt racism is for others.

“They are different to you. Hate them. They are the enemy,” say the right wing mass media publications, those that eschew analysis and articulate explorations of the structural iniquities of this shithole archipelago* (“if you don’t like it, leave”: I don’t like it, I did leave, I had to come back, I will leave it again or, if I don’t, I will be miserable forever, which is surely a win for the pro-British right, who have schadenfreude (and schadenfreude only) as a source of joy**) and laud the attributes and inconsistencies of the elites…

The mass of published and promoted voices here in England are bruised advocates for villains, smug little shits who are hated by those they lionise with as much vitriol as they have bullied the poor and the powerless into feeling towards those even more disenfranchised by the system and-

Sorry, I was out of the country for 50 hours over the weekend, which was (alas) just enough time to rest my eyes and become able to see, afresh, anew, again, the reality of the intellectualism-, compassion- and progress-resistant nasty fucking place I was cursed to be born.

I hate it here.

I wish I’d been drowned at, or soon after, birth. (This refers to the plot of Mothers Don’t, which I will get to eventually, but not for a bit yet.)

Certainly, had I been the victim of infanticide, I would have got to feel like my existence had a practical, if not emotional, effect on another person before I was allowed to grow up and become near-irreperably broken by a life of emotional neglect. So unloved and unseen was I as a child and a young adult, that I latched onto and remained in a domestic situation full of hate for almost an entire decade of my early adulthood. To be hated was better than to be ignored, to be told that everything about you was wrong was better than to be unnoticed, to be screamed at was better than to be dismissed, to be bullied was better than to be left alone, to be ejected from that situation was better than to be never helped to escape it. (See the pleasure of regret (Broken Sleep Books, 2020))

If you cannot be a parent, it is better that your child is never born, or – if/when it must be – it is given to someone with a surfeit of care and love and compassion, because those people do exist. Some people should never be parents. The thing they lack is not time or money or intelligence or cultural capital: you do not have to be rich or educated or fancy to love: you do not have to have all the answers to be open to hearing questions. You can be thick as shit and full of love, you can struggle to find food and water and shelter but still convey meaning and affection and attention. You can be an empty vessel, ultimately, and still be a parent. Some people – many people, alas – do not see their own lack, they do not want to; they do not want to take responsibility for their own failings. If you do not feel or even believe in love, then how and why would you bring others into the nightmare that is existence?

Can you imagine, like, and I’m being fucking serious here, can you fucking imagine how horrifying the world looks when you never see happy adults in love until you’re basically thirty? Can you imagine how deeply bleak life seems when everyone you see is miserable, when they embrace their misery as the only way they know themselves, when misery is treated as the default? When lovelessness isn’t seen as a tragic aberration but is treated as a normal state of affairs? Where does one go to ask questions if overwhelming sadness as normal is treated as a fucking medical problem? Where medication is seen as the only way to find happiness? Where pills and booze are the only others you can fucking rely on? Where there is nothing, nothing, nothing that is better than there being nothing at all?

Sorry.

I’ve started reducing the quantity of my meds because I think the apathy they cause makes me more at risk of suicide lol.

Here I am, lol, trying trying trying trying to do “being well behaved”. I wish, I just fucking wish, I had the strength of fucking character to follow through at the lowest/clearest moments. Then again, if I was able to follow my hopes/dreams/wishes/desires through, then maybe I’d be able to enjoy life enough to not need to kill myself?

That’s interesting, isn’t it?

The idea – perhaps the fact – that the very internal lack, that inability to live in any meaningful way, is the thing that both keeps me alive to suffer and keeps the life that I live so bleakly fucking empty of joy/pleasure/fun?

Why aren’t I not in England?

Why aren’t I doing anything (other than reading) that ever brings me meaningful-feeling joy?

Why do I accept, acquiesce, yawn along with, my own existence? Because, ultimately, I think, because I wasn’t drowned at birth and because I instead suffered through childhood as someone raised in an environment without love, without being seen, without being cared for in a meaningful, emotional, way.

Mothers Don’t is a 2018 novel freshly translated from Basque, and it’s one of the best books I’ve read in ages.

I don’t know if Mothers Don’t is non-fiction, if it’s a novel, it it’s somewhere between the two or somewhere beyond both, but it is about a new mother, a writer at the start of her career who is receiving acclaim and attention, who discovers that the friend of a friend – (a school friend she met once of a French friend she knew while studying in the UK a decade and a bit ago) has just been arrested for drowning both of her twin infants.

What follows is a text that explores parenthood, societal pressures around gender-based expectations, love, romance, sex, literature, art, creativity, crime, psychology, mass media, success, beauty, ageing, power and its lack, travel, infidelity, eating disorders, violence, cruelty, self sabotage, wine, translation, Basque independence, dreaming, driving, mountains, divorce, regret, pleasure, joy, horror and sadness. Yes, it’s that fucking good.

Mothers Don’t does everything a book can possibly do, and in only 200 pages.

I don’t know if any of Katixe Agirre’s other books have been translated out of the Basque into English, but if they have been I will be ordering them rn. If they haven’t been, I know one at least one has been translated into Castilian, so I will be buying that the next time I’m in a Spanish bookstore.

Mothers Don’t is one of the best, most articulate, most emotive and intelligent and powerful books I’ve read in a long time, and Kristin Addis’ translation is rich and vibrant and evokes a voice totally in synch with the content.

It’s excellent, you should read it.

And I should travel back in time and infanticide myself, like in that Bruce Willis movie.

Definitely definitely definitely recommend.

Order direct from 3TimesRebel via this link

* no offence meant to the smaller of the two sovereign nations located among these islands, which does seem to be, on the whole, at least trying to make misery less of a guarantee (though with their tax and healthcare systems being arguably more regressive than ours, maybe I’m just dreaming!)

** “the pro-British right” is a tautology – Great Britain is a right wing extractive colonialist project and any one who is any less than vocally opposed to it is deeply right wing and not really worth interacting with except for when getting the cash you require to live. I’d apologise if this wasn’t true. Good fucking god I hate every fucking second I’m here. I’d be so much happier if I’d never realised that taking pleasure from seeing others suffer wasn’t a moral failure!

enjoy a christmas blast from a christmas past

1 comment on “Mothers Don’t by Katixa Agirre

  1. Pingback: Strangers Within: Documentary as Encounter, edited by Therese Henningsen & Juliette Joffé – Triumph Of The Now

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