In Confined, Mariana Dietl adopts an array of voices to tell the story of a woman named Elena Reyes de Basagalupo, who is locked away in a windowless room by her husband in Argentina circa 1979. The setting corresponds with the height Argentina’s “Dirty War,” which saw over 30,000 people become “disappeared” as the country’s military dictatorship attempted to suppress communist uprisings. Given the grim nature of the subject matter, it’s no surprise that Confined is itself a grim, often claustrophobic read.
The main action of the novel revolves around Elena’s efforts to find comfort — even a glimmer of it — inside the confines of her cell. Her husband, a mid-level militant, has locked her away and explained her absence from the world at large by telling her family that she has died. The resulting isolation, however, forces Elena to live in a world of memories, and soon she finds herself reconstructing the life that led to her eventual imprisonment. What becomes apparent as she does so is that her imprisonment began long before her husband locked her away. In short, Elena’s place in society could only ever be one of servitude and loyalty to her husband, her family, her government, and her church.
In addition to the largely omniscient third-person account of Elena’s story, Dietl fills in the blanks by inviting other characters to speak their minds on her disappearances. Roughly every-other-chapter consists of an interview with one or more of the people who knew the protagonists in her former life: her parents, her in-laws, the guards who watched over her, and a beloved grandmother, to name just a few. Such chapters are set off by a change in typeface — from Times New Roman (or something quite like it) to a sans-serif font. This technique is especially helpful, especially given the absence of chapter headings throughout the novel. Indeed, the novel itself is so densely packed with the voices of various characters and the psychological details of Elena’s imprisonment that it’s easy to get lost in the proceedings. The effect of this is to put the reader in a position similar to that of Elena: as the details pile up, we become walled in, victims of the overwhelming crush of history, politics, and other forces beyond our control. A dense, harrowing, and at times confounding read, Confined is, nonetheless, a moving book reminiscent of William Gaddis and Reinaldo Arenas.