Atlantic, £14.99, 350pp. £13.49 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Say Her Name, By Francisco Goldman

Francisco Goldman's fourth novel is based on a real tragedy in which his wife, Aura Estrada, broke her neck while body-surfing along the Mexican coast, and died. She had recently turned 30. They had known each other for four years and would have celebrated their second wedding anniversary if she had lived another month.

Frank is the central character, describing, dissecting, celebrating and mourning Aura's life. He paints a flesh-and-blood portrait of a warm-hearted, playful, aspiring young Mexican writer, intimately trawling through his memories, her diaries (kept since childhood) and the unfinished fiction that she left in her computer hard-drive. She had hoped to create an "X-ray" of her childhood through her storytelling. He appears to want to do this for her, in part, in this novel.

The story is all the more dramatic, and tragic, because it is based on facts. Frank's emotional freight – love, happiness, bewilderment, guilt, grief – sounds like Goldman's. Yet the New York author and journalist holds us back from thinking in such clearly divided terms. He wrote in novel form because of a deep suspicion towards the claims of veracity that memoirs boast. All memory turns into a kind of fiction when recounted thus. Say Her Name certainly blurs the clean lines drawn around fiction, biography and memoir. While it is impossible to regard the story as straightforward fiction, it is an immensely powerful and thoroughly accomplished piece of work.

Goldman met Aura at the age of 47. By then, he had stopped believing in love, having been serially disappointed. Their first meeting was at a book presentation in New York, and though their romance began months later, her presence had aleady lodged itself in his head. Their relationship is incandescently evoked. She is returned to life in its retelling - her charm, her ardour, her irritations and endearments, and the unsolved mysteries of the soul that a young wife takes to her untimely grave.

Alongside love there is the flood of grief: Goldman pays obsessive attention to even the smallest details surrounding her death, from the last books she read to the kind of wave that engulfed her in Mazunte, Oaxaca. While this portrait is saturated in the subjectivity of his love, his grief is much more clinically depicted, as if he is observing his self-destruction. He spends his days drunk, distraught, or sleeping with women who knew Aura.

The novel format might also have been chosen to afford Goldman greater creative freedom. After Aura died, he was blamed for the death by her mother, Juanita, who launched a legal case against him. Goldman had run into the sea behind Aura and surfed a wave just before her fatal jump, when she attempted to follow his act of bravado. The guilty argument is aired that, without his gesture, she would be alive today.

He ponders Juanita's accusation fully, but finally refutes it with reason, (the shoreline was a safe one which had never before yielded a fatality), philosophical arguments on free will, and expressions of his deepest love and regret. A quiet rage towards Juanita courses just below the surface of his narrative. Yet despite this tension (or perhaps because of it) he does not skate over the close and complex mother-daughter relationship. Juanita and Goldman appear at times to regard each other as rivals for Aura's heart.

At moments in Say Her Name, there are echoes of Joan Didion's stunned disbelief, in The Year of Magical Thinking, at losing a spouse so abruptly. The emotional aftershocks resound in Goldman's prose, and leave him wobbling on existentially slippery ground. It is not just Aura he has lost but his former identity as a married man, deeply content, utterly in love, convinced of his future with Aura and their as-yet unborn family.

He reads deeply in and around death, loss, bereavement, in order to heal, but finds himself resistant. In Freud's essay "Mourning and Melancholia", he reads that mourning's function "was to detach the survivor's memories and hopes from the dead. You're supposed to accept that and work at it. Freud believed the process should take between one and two years. But I didn't want to detach or accept, I did not want to, why did I have to want to be 'cured'?"

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?