3TimesRebel Press is a new publisher based in Scotland that specialises in books written by women and translated from minority languages. Andrea Mayo started out as a character in a short story by Argentinian-Catalan writer Flavia Company, but then became one of Company’s heteronyms. So The Carnivorous Plant is a novel written in the voice of Andrea Mayo, translated from Catalan by Laura McGloughlin.
All of 3TimesRebel’s books represent a challenge to the reader – literally so, as there’s always a provocative question on the back cover. In this case, it’s ‘Do you think you are so strong you would never be a victim of abuse? Well, then think twice.’ The challenge laid down here is to understand: to put oneself in the place of the protagonist, appreciate what it was like for her in an abusive relationship, and why she stayed.
As narrator, Andrea describes her relationship with Ibana in harrowing detail. Ibana’s tactics run from physical violence to blaming and shaming Andrea. The central metaphor that the novel uses is the abusive partner seen as a carnivorous plant:
‘Bit by bit the plant establishes her roots where you have yours, which are destroyed little by little. There comes a time when only her circle, her friendships, are worthwhile, and you distance yourself from your own … You do everything possible to avoid suffocating yet the only thing you achieve is to move deeper into the funnel.’
This comparison emphasises that the abuse is both insidious and all-encompassing, a system that traps the victim. Moreover, it’s a system that turns the victim’s efforts against her. That helps explain why Andrea stayed where she was: ‘We stay put to think, we stay put to gather strength, we stay put in case something comes to mind, we don’t ever believe it’s forever.’
Andrea acknowledges that, to an outsider, it might seem an easy matter to step away from such a relationship. But the novel puts us inside that relationship, and there we see that it’s a vicious circle – one that is built into the very structure of the novel itself: non-linear, short chapters each numbered ‘one’, returning to the same themes again and again … There is a sense of movement but not progression, which brings home the nightmare of Andrea’s situation.
The novel is deepened further by Andrea’s observations of the person behind Ibana the monster, including the astute ‘to control my world she had to abandon hers’. These insights don’t in any way excuse Ibana’s behaviour, but they do put it in a context, and they also highlight the question of Ibana’s daughter, and whether she can escape her mother.
There is hope in Andrea’s story, but it’s tentative and ambivalent. To read The Carnivorous Plant is to step into an ever-shifting world with no obvious way out. We’re right there with Andrea, and we feel what she feels every step of the way.
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
The Carnivorous Plant
by Andrea Mayo
Translated by Laura McGloughlin
Published by 3TimesRebel (2022)
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David Hebblethwaite has reviewed European fiction for Strange Horizons, Shiny New Books, Splice and The Riveter. He is also a regular member of a ‘shadow panel’ of readers who read along with the International Booker Prize.
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