This is one of the first titles from 3TimesRebel, a small press based in Dundee, who specialise in books by female authors, translated from minority languages (Mothers Don’t is translated from Basque). It’s a compelling book, and quite a statement of intent for the publisher.
The book begins with one Alice Espanet being found at home with her twins, whom she has apparently killed. Two weeks later, Agirre’s narrator is in the middle of giving birth when she realises that she knew Alice for a time at university, though in those days Alice was named Jade. The narrator comes to find that motherhood is taking over her sense of self. Having found some success as a writer of true crime, she decides the way to get back to herself is to write about Alice Espanet.
Agirre’s protagonist tries to understand what drove Alice to kill her children. She visits the Espanet house, goes back to an old friend who also knew Jade, attends Alice’s trial… but the answers remain elusive and ambiguous. At the same time, the narrator is questioning her own feelings about motherhood: sometimes it feels beautiful and fulfilling to her; sometimes it pushes aside everything else.
It seems to me that Mothers Don’t is an example of what Javier Cercas terms a ‘blind-spot novel‘ – a novel searching to answer a question that ultimately can’t be answered, so that the search itself becomes an answer. The narrator’s feelings about being a mother, the competing stories trying to explain Alice Espanet’s actions… These things are not reconciled, but the contradictions in them animate the novel and help give it its power.