Ana Simo’s Heartland immediately scoops you up and draws you away into the fierce current of the narrator’s stream of consciousness.
The long, rambling sentences and even longer, denser paragraphs can take a little bit of getting used to, but it’s worth sticking with her. There are instances where the narrator goes off on lengthy tangents and other instances where she assumes that you have the same background information that she does, so she leaves out big chunks of context.
This can leave you with a lot to chew over, but if you make that little bit of effort, it allows you to become absorbed into her headspace. You soon develop an ability to understand of her mental processes, you get a feel to how she draws her conclusions, how her triggers and motives evolve.
This is crucial to understanding this book, because it’s unlikely that many readers will find much to like about the protagonist.
She is judgemental and often rude about people. She seems very hateful, channelling her often overwhelming emotions into negativity. Even the people she seems to care about, she doesn’t so much like them as idolise them, holding them to standards they can never possibly live up to. At times, this makes her pitiable. You see the way that pain has shaped her into this twisted, angry creature and it’s easy to feel bad for her.
This is an incredibly powerful part of this book, keeping readers hooked on this character’s thought process even as it drifts further and further from a decent and moral path.
Her goal from the beginning is murder.
She learns that McCabe, the woman who once stole away her love, has thrown away the very relationship that she would have given anything to get back. Enraged that McCabe would squander such a love, she decides to kill her.
But not only does she intend to kill her, but she plots a tortuous scheme to manipulate McCabe into becoming dependent on her, realising how she has wronged her and finally begging for her fatal punishment. She carries out her plan with cold precision. She moves into a house with McCabe and serves her unconditionally, observing her and developing a mutual dependence between them that she plans to twist to her advantage when the time finally comes.
Throughout the implementation of her plan, you learn about her culture and her history and at the hate that had been levelled at her and internalised, the racism and the homophobia. You get a stronger grasp of her mental processes, getting drawn ever further into the way her mind works.
It is a fascinating study into the disturbingly coherent logic of someone whose behaviour, if viewed from the outside, would seem ridiculous and erratic. Even reading the story from within her head, there is a lot that is impulsive and sudden, with attitudes and emotions rapidly changing from moment to moment.
But because of the way that Simo writes, the narrative carries you along through every whim that captures her. You let the tides of her emotions dictate the path you follow, not stopping to think about what makes sense, because the writing has pushed you so deeply into this dark and consuming headspace.
It is this aspect of the writing that makes this book so interesting. You can disagree with the narrator, you can dislike her, you can have utter contempt for her drama and her pettiness and her violence. But there will rarely be a time when you feel the need to leave her story.
There is a certain thrill in feeling yourself slowly begin to empathise with someone who is infectiously dedicated to something genuinely horrific.
The perspective of someone carrying around so much trauma, but not really realising it, is brilliantly crafted. Wrongs that are many years old haunt her. She nurses grudges that are toxic to her mental health and end up directing her whole life. Hatred and bigotry, in the form of both racism and homophobia, has been thrown at her for a long time, since her childhood, and she has internalised enough of it to contort her. Her flair for the dramatic infects everything she does, demanding perfection from every detail of her life and, more pertinently to her plot, insisting that her grand murder be begged for.
This is the kind of person that you would hope never to be, but it is interesting to the point of addictive to see the cogs of her mind move, to be inside her head.
The world, as framed through her eyes, takes on a whole new fascinating level. It forces the reader to tease through the attitudes she has internalised and the biases she has developed. The way she describes places, people and histories tell you as much as herself as the community and culture that surround her. You also get a chance to see how her upbringing shaped her, taking cues from both the things that happen to her and the way she recollects them.
This book is darkly funny, as well as deep and complex. The intense relationship between love and hate is threaded through every scene of the novel. It can take a little while to unpack and leave you digesting it for quite some after you put it down. But it’s worth it.
Buy Heartland here.