Controle (2019, ‘Control’, not translated yet) is a novel centred on an absence. Our protagonist, she’s lost control, and she’s clinging to the nearest passer-by: she is forever spinning around the void of might-have-been.
Maria Fernanda (Nanda) was born the day after Ian Curtis killed himself. At the age of twelve, she falls from her bike while playing with her friends, bangs her head, and has her first epileptic seizure. It is a turning point in her life: mishandled by doctors, overprotected by her parents, and bullied by some of her classmates, Nanda will turn increasingly inwards, surrounding herself with 80’s and 90’s songs.
She drops out of secondary school and spends most of her time at home, in her bedroom, lying down on the floor (so as to avoid falling, in case a seizure happens), listening to music on her headphones. Most of her friends walk away, her old classmates go in and out of college, get jobs, get married and have children, while she remains stuck, her head inside an aquarium full of songs. Walkmans and cassette tapes are replaced by discmans and CDs, then dial-up internet, mIRC, chat rooms, LimeWire, Kazaa. Everything is in motion, passing her by.
By her twenties, Nanda still feels like a dead weight, always afraid of leaving her parent’s house (and always having seizures in random places when she does), always apologizing for existing, and feeling stuck on a long-distance relationship via MSN with a guy she never touched. Meanwhile, she may or may not be in love with her childhood friend Joana.
They never talk about it. Maybe it’s love, or maybe it’s just a platonic feeling; perhaps, it’s just another form of control. Maybe Nanda is just trying to keep intact her more cherished pieces of life before the fall. We don’t know yet; we will have to learn it as slowly as Nanda herself does.
It feels as though there were two stories being told in the novel, like a chariot driven by two horses running in opposite directions: the narrative of Nanda dreading to lose control, and seeking refuge in repetition, stuck in a loop of teenage angst; and the narrative of Nanda losing the grip on her life precisely when trying to hold it tight. No matter what she does to avoid the fall, it is already happening.
As we could already notice from Amora (2015), your writing walks through several styles: stream of conscience, prose poetry, and the more conventional narrative style. The story follows different episodes in Nanda’s life, and some chapters almost feel like interconnected short stories. The chapter titles are New Order and Joy Division’s songs, and snippets of lyrics are inserted here and there in the text, as a kind of inner soundtrack of what the protagonist is going through in some of the pivotal scenes.
The story is told in the first person by Nanda, whom we feel is not a very reliable narrator. She is, after all, a charioteer torn between two opposing horses, and it is not clear who holds the reins and who is held by them, as she tries to shape and control her narrative. The first-person point of view and her desire for (and illusion of) control over her image and her life, built in large measure out of a choice of remaining (and shaping herself) online rather than outside, are also some of the generational marks that, alongside references to songs and changing technology, make this novel a nostalgic one (particularly, for those of us who were young in the nineties and in the early aughts). And there is nothing like a sip of nostalgia to remind us that, like Nanda, we are also, to a greater or lesser extent, revolving around the void of might-have-been.
The book starts at the end, then takes us back to the turning point where it all started, and ends in a new beginning which is still up in the air (perhaps, quite literally so): by the age of thirty, Nanda will suffer another accident, but, this time, there is hint that she will be falling back on track.
“Normal? What is normality? And she turned around and took me by the hand and said I´ve lost control again I don´t believe that everyone thinks that my normal is what I am on the outside.” – Natália Borges Polesso, Controle, my translation
“No one asked me how I felt. I didn’t know how to answer them precisely. And people believe in the precision of feelings. I’m happy. I’m sad. What do these words even mean, anyway? I have three kilos of wet sand in my stomach.” – Natália Borges Polesso, Controle, my translation
“I’m lying on my bed of ashes now. It’s cold. I slept on my side, looking at my guitar with no strings, which I never learned to play. I dreamed of fires and huge fights, as if the streets were battlefields and I watched everything on television, sitting on a disproportionately small armchair. I only know that I slept looking at the guitar, because I woke up in the exact same position. Looking at the hollow of silence. Nothing had changed. There was no new order.” – Natália Borges Polesso, Controle, my translation
About the book
- Companhia das Letras, 2019, 176 p. Goodreads
- My rating: 4 stars
- I read this book together with Michelle from the blog Michelle das 5 às 7
- Projects: Women in Translation Month, hosted by Meytal.
- It is possible to listen to the novel’s playlist here: