#RivetingReviews: West Camel reviews THE BITCH by Pilar Quintana

A slim slice of literary perfection, The Bitch is a lesson in the power of understatement. The simplicity of the story, the setting, and the daily life of its protagonist are reflected in the language, style and tone of the prose, yet this restraint does nothing to diminish the impact of this story. Rather, it amplifies it. 

Damaris, a forty-year-old housekeeper living on Colombia’s Pacific coast, buys a puppy. It grows up and has puppies of its own. And that’s pretty much it. Almost. 

Damaris’s great sadness is that she’s unable to have a child. She’s tried various remedies over the years, but nothing works. She and her supportive husband, Rogelio, ‘had to tell anyone who asked that she just wasn’t getting pregnant’. Further down the line, their infertility finally drives a wedge between them: ‘Though they continued to live together, and to sleep in the same bed, they went three months without speaking.’ 

This is how this emotive story is delivered – not with theatrics, not with exaggerated language, but with clarity and brevity. The real pain Damaris feels becomes evident with her behaviour around her new puppy. She calls it Chirli – the name she’d reserved for her first daughter. She cossets it like she would a child, refusing to treat it like her husband’s semi-feral mutts. 

When Chirli grows up and has her own puppies, however, Damaris falls into a deep depression:

‘She spent all day shut in watching television on a mat she laid out on the floor; outside, meanwhile, the sea swelled and receded; the rain poured down on the world, and the jungle, so menacing, was all around her without comforting her’.

The wounds the bitch’s fecundity leave on Damaris are deep. The dog’s presence in the house now appals her, yet despite serious attempts, and its own forays into the forest, she cannot rid herself of it. The question is raised: can Damaris live with her pain? And if not, what action will she take? 

These are universal questions; questions everyone has to face sometime in their life. Quintana’s careful, measured prose in Dillman’s careful, measured translation allows us to empathise with Damaris’s plight in a way that we might not be able to were the novel written in a histrionic way, were this small drama played too large. 

The life of a poor, black, rural Colombian woman is completely alien to my own, yet I felt Damaris’s every emotion and understood her every act – even the horribly painful, horrible cruel behaviour to which she ultimately resorts. This is stunning writing. 

Reviewed by West Camel


Written by Pilar Quintana

Translated by Lisa Dillman

Published by World Editions (2020)

West Camel is a writer, reviewer and editor. He edited Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction 2015, and is currently working for new press Orenda Books. His debut novel, Attend, is out now.

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Category: ReviewsJanuary 2021


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