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
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
    Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

    They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

    A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
    David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

    Hanging with the Hoff

    Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
    Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

    Hipsters of Arabia

    Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
    The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

    The cult of Roger Federer

    What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
    Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

    Malaysian munchies

    With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
    10 best festival beauty

    Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

    Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

    A Different League

    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

    Steve Bunce on Boxing

    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf