Durre Shahwar reviews Kiára Árgenta’s poetic, melancholic debut novel Infinity, published by Cardiff-based publishers Opening Chapter.
Kiára Árgenta’s debut, Infinity, is a whirlwind of a novel. After a violent argument with an ex leaves her with a broken jaw, the novel’s narrator, Kiára, escapes to Hungary where she meets István. The dark-haired handsome Hungarian dentist set to repair her jaw and capture her as his Queen. The attraction between the two of them is undeniable; what darkness lurks within Kiára lurks within István. Yet what follows is the tale of an intense and all-consuming obsessive love, filled with grandiose declarations and extremities. The very nature of both of their personalities turns their relationship into a spiral of paranoia, insecurities and control as they fight to gain the upper hand over each other.
Infinity is filled with oppositions yet similarities; both suffer from bipolar disorders, making their moods and treatments of each other ever shifting and unpredictable. Their relationship is based on the fine lines between love and hate, love and madness, passion and violence. The themes of mental health and trauma underpin the whole plot. Their illnesses seem to manifest itself into every aspect of their lives. It defines them as characters and their relationship. István is haunted by nightmares, delusions of grandeur, and what comes across as multiple personalities. Both of them make love violently, leaving each other with bruises, scratches and marks that often seep blood. Both hurt each other emotionally, testing the limits and nature of each other’s love.
The act of coming and going and the passage of time is rendered through lovely descriptions of winter snows, warm beaches, and sunsets and sunrises that mark their days. The prose draws on a lot of pathetic fallacy to describe Kiára and István’s unstable and temperamental relationship. Seasons dictate and mirror moods, the stages of their relationship, their health, and their decisions. These are two sensitive characters affected strongly by the harsh cold winters of Hungary. The turmoil of their relationship is described through volcanic imagery: dormant, shifting, hot, sputtering.
Therefore, Infinity is also quite geographical, and assumingly, loosely autobiographical; the narrator takes on the name of the author, who herself has grown up in Paris, studied Russian in Wales, before moving to Spain and Hungary. The reader can assume that Kiára Árgenta has drawn on her experiences of living in different countries and travelling to depict that never-ending restlessness and the need for belonging that haunts Kiára in the novel. We get a good sense of this due to the languages of each place, and the author’s acute observational descriptions of the people encountered there, that vary from one another. I was almost envious of Kiára’s easy way of picking up and taking off to work in different countries all over Europe, and in turn frustrated at her returning repeatedly to her volatile lover in Hungary. Yet eventually, the travelling, drugs, self harm, alcohol and partying takes its toll, as Kiára suffers two miscarriages and a crippling chest infection, forcing her to return to Hungary for good.
Kiára’s miscarriages come about as a result of István’s obsession with having a child, an heir. In his nightmares and bipolar moods, he believes himself to be the ancient King of Hungary. He also believes that Kiára will be happier and less depressed if she has a child to occupy her. In contrast, Kiára is opposing to the idea. There are feminist undertones in her non-maternal feelings, as well as István’s misogynist treatment of her. While István longs for a child, Kiára lives in fear that their child will take her place in his eyes. Yet she doesn’t voice these paranoid and insecure thoughts out of fear. This paranoia worsens when Kiára suffers from postpartum depression that she also hides, letting it build up inside her, leading to the inevitable.
At times, the theme of mental health gets lost in the frustration the reader feels at the characters and their unhealthy relationship. It doesn’t evoke much sympathy for them and their decisions. The prose can also become repetitive; the need that the two feel for each other is reiterated consistently throughout along with grand declarations. Yet this is balance this with harsh, brittle language in a very skilful way. The novel certainly picks up pace more towards the second half. Kiára Árgenta also weaves poetry into the chapters, striking a melancholic and tragic tone that is likely to stay with the reader.
Infinity’s sequel, Fragments, is due to be published in 2015.
Durre Shahwar is a writer and an Associate Editor for Wales Arts Review. Her work explores social and cultural issues, race, identity, intersectionality, and mental health. She is the co-founder of ‘Where I’m Coming From’, an open mic that promotes BAME writing in Wales. Durre is currently doing her PhD in Creative Writing at Cardiff University.