Heartland

Ana Simo
Restless Books
January 18, 2018

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

To read Ana Simo’s Heartland, you have to first have to accept that you are going to be instantly swept away by the current of the narrator’s stream of consciousness.

It took me a little while to get used to this.

Heartland, Ana Simo, Restless Books, 2018

She speaks in long, rambling sentences. Sometimes she wanders off on tangents and other times she leaves out chunks of information she assumes you know as well as she does, only to revisit them later. But you get inside her head very quickly and you soon learn to understand her every motive and trigger.

I often didn’t like this character. She can be rude and judgemental and the few people she is kind towards, she seems to idolise rather than genuinely appreciate. She is consumed by emotion, which mostly translates as hatred, and she can be extremely cruel. I caught myself pitying her too many times. Though I didn’t agree with many of her choices, I could always follow her logic. I liked the opportunity to get inside of the head of someone I would never usually understand in the real world.

She does things I would never consider. She embarks on a long, tortuous plot to murder the most recent lover of her ex-partner, who not only stole her away but then squandered the relationship. The narrator aims to twist her psychologically to the point that she begs for death. And she carries it out with cold precision. She has violent sex in a public (albeit empty) library. She has an opportunity to reconnect with the lover that instigated the murder plot and doesn’t take it. She makes a lot of decisions that, from the outside, I would have thought bizarre and erratic and ridiculous.

Her emotions and attitudes change massively from moment to moment, but this book is so well written that I quite comfortably went along with it, not often stopping to think about what makes sense. Seeing it from inside her head, I could follow her logic every step of the way. I could see the places in the story where I would’ve taken a different path and I relished the chance to see what hers looked like. There was an almost disturbing coherence to the pattern of her choices, even when they were truly heinous, that became too easy to empathise with.

For all that I disagreed with her and often disliked her, I never felt like I wanted to step out of her story.

I got confused along the way about how I wanted it to end. I didn’t agree with her murder plot and didn’t want her to succeed in it, but I also didn’t want her to fail at something that she was so infectiously passionate about. This book is expertly written from the perspective of someone with a lot of baggage, who has taken on a lot of pain from the world. She struggles intensely to get over wrongs that are decades old, nursing grudges that get more poisonous to her every day. She has internalised a lot of hate directed towards her, including homophobia and racism, and reacts by levelling the same kind of bigotry at others. She has a flair for the dramatic, demanding everything to be perfect in her day to day life and, more grippingly, insisting that her revenge be grand and universally justified. She places herself at the centre of the universe, taking everything personally and blowing a lot of things out of proportion.

She is an extremely interesting character and it is addictive to watch her mind work. You see all of the story world framed through the narrator’s perception. This means it can take a little while to tease through her biases, but in a way that teaches you as much as about the character as it does about the setting and history she relates to you. In this way, you learn about the history of the community and culture, as well as the friction between social groups in both the local area and the world as a whole. By giving us this idea of the social taboos of the specific community, it makes the narrator’s behaviour so much more outrageous, in both good ways and bad.

Ana Simo has written a deep, complex book which, at its core, explores the close relationship between love and hate. It’s a book that can take a little while to think about and unpack in order to really appreciate everything that happens. It is dark and funny and, at times, heart-breaking. It draws you into an intense story of love and revenge and hate and sex and taboo.

And it’s well worth reading.