Restless, skeptical of love and afraid of the familiar, All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos (translated by Alice Whitmore) follows the life of a young Argentinean woman who spends ten years in Europe working a number of different unskilled jobs, until she returns to South America and finds happiness in a remote corner of Patagonia. This happiness is then soured by two brutal murders that she may be implicated in. As the title suggests, the young woman’s life is littered with a string of self-inflicted goodbyes as she tries to find identity and purpose and come to terms with past and present relationships, including that of her father.
The fragmented style is both a strength and a weakness of this novella. It heightens the unsettled feeling surrounding the protagonist and creates a sense of anticipation around the murders she is being questioned about. However, it also makes it difficult to both follow the narrative and to connect with the protagonist. And although I appreciated the depth of irony, the intensity and the detailed snippets of a young woman’s life, the book was hard to get into.
The disconnect created by the fragments – although undoubtedly purposeful – made it too easy to disconnect myself. Although I was immersed within the splintered moments of the protagonist’s life, I would have been more motivated to persevere had she been a little more sympathetic. Despite this, it is well worth persisting with as when it eventually came together, it left me with a deep sense of the tragedy and comedy of life. This is the kind of book I imagine I would enjoy more upon a second reading.
The writing is unquestionably outstanding. The language is at times rich and elaborate, delving into detail, but at other times blunt and bare, striking at the truth. Dimópulos makes you work as you strain to connect the fragmented snippets of story, to piece together the fractured remembering of a desultory life and glean meaning from seemingly meaningless moments. She doesn’t try to woo you with a sympathetic character or a rollicking tale, she trusts that you will persevere and grow to see the deeper meaning of these everyday encounters and relationships. Some people will love the challenge, others will shy from it. I myself wavered between the two.
All My Goodbyes is a deeply ironic, superbly written novella that is sure to entertain and challenge lovers of literary fiction and readers with an interest in South American voices.