Crime mystery set on LINDISFARNE
Novel set in COLOMBIA (Guest Review by Isobel Blackthorn)
27th April 2021
The Bitch by Pilar Quintana, novel set in COLOMBIA. Translated by Lisa Dillman.
This is a short novel set in Colombia’s wild Pacific coast where dense tropical rainforest meets the ocean, a place so remote it is only accessible to tourists by boat or plane.
Here is a novel, or perhaps a novella, crammed with intensity, with passion, yet composed in a sparse, matter-of-fact, almost indifferent style that belies a brutal reality, a reality that peeks out at the reader, both brazen and shy.
I first came across the Pacific coast of Colombia when reviewing another novel by a Colombian author. I looked up the country on Google Maps. Noticing a single road meandering its way down the mountains to the port city of Buenaventura, I then researched what that place was like. One of the most murderous places on earth, apparently. I even dropped the Google Maps man down to explore some of the streets, get a feel for the place. I decided that only the intrepid, the truly brave sort of tourist craving earthy authenticity and daring adventure would choose to visit. Which is why Quintana’s novel with its confronting realism is so important. How often does the English-speaking world get to read a book set in this troubled wilderness?
Quintana writes of a ruined paradise where trash washes up on the beach, where the locals live in shacks on stilts and work in the tourist hotels, sell their wares at market stalls or fish.
The Bitch is the story of a woman and her relationship with a dog. Damaris is childless and suffers the stigma. She feels unworthy, overweight, and is at times self-indulgently slothful. She carries intense emotions of loss, rejection and guilt, immature emotions, unresolved, and reinforced by the TV shows she’s addicted to. Through Damaris eyes, the reader gains a perspective on the lives of her family and their limited horizons and prospects. Damaris is employed to clean an empty house, the owners having all but abandoned the place after the death of their son, for which Damaris carries the guilt. Her husband Rogelio is a fisherman. He has three dogs, Danger, Mosco and Olivo, and all of them are tough and menacing. When Damaris acquires a pup of her own, she feels indulgent, a true mother at last. Only, the pup, a bitch, is a maverick with a will of its own and that’s when the trouble starts. To reveal more would be to ruin the story and especially the ending, which packs quite a punch.
There’s a lot of praise that can be thrown at this book but for me, the value of the narrative comes down to the author’s own experience which builds a tremendous sense of place in mind of the reader. The descriptions of the rainforest are vivid and alive. The tribulations of the locals, their customs, superstitions, the way they cope with the modern world of Buenaventura are all depicted with sensitivity and insight.
Guest Review by Isobel Blackthorn
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