The latest addition to my website is Najat El Hachmi‘s L’últim patriarca (The Last Patriarch). Najat El Hachmi may not seem a Catalan name and it is not. El Hachmi was born in Morocco but her family moved to Catalonia when she was eight and Catalan was the language she learned to read and write in. Her first book was called I, Too, Am Catalan. This novel tells the story of Mimoun, the eponymous last patriarch, who is a violent, drunken, unfaithful, cruel, bullying and controlling man. It is narrated by his daughter. The first part is before her birth, from his birth to her birth, and tells of how he became as obnoxious as he did and how he married the narrator’s mother. The second part, set in Barcelona, tells of his continued bad behaviour but also shows how the narrator coped both with him (and her mother) and with living in a country which, in many respects, was foreign. It won the prestigious Ramon Llull Prize in 2008.
The latest addition to my website is Lluïsa Forrellad‘s Siempre en capilla [Always In The Chapel]. Forrellad wrote this in Spanish in 1953 (for which she won the Nadal Prize) and then did not write another novel for fifty-three years, her three later novels all appearing in Catalan. It tells the stories of three English doctors working a in a poor, fictitious city in England called Spick, trying to cope with a diphtheria epidemic. They are developing a serum but are unsure of its effectiveness and are concerned with the morality of testing it on animals other than rats and, of course, of testing it on humans (which they finally do). We follow their stressful lives, the multiple deaths of both rich and poor in Spick and their issues with morality. It is a fine novel which, sadly, has not been translated into English.
The latest addition to my website is Jordi Puntí‘s Maletes perdudes (Lost Luggage). It tells the story of four half-brothers, each from a different country, who were unaware of each other’s existence and who come together in Barcelona to learn more about their lost father and one another. We follow the story of their father, Gabriel, who worked for an international moving company and met and impregnated their respective mothers, as well as his fellow movers and partners in crime (they stole freely from the items they moved). At the beginning of the book he seems to have disappeared but left ample documentation about his colourful life, the four mothers and the four (possibly five) sons. It is a well-written and very lively story as the four learn about their father and one another.
The latest addition to my website is Maria de la Pau Janer‘s Pasiones romanas [Roman Passions]. This tells the story of six women from Palma, Majorca, who all have men problems, all losing at least one man, either by death or because he left her (usually for another woman). They also all end up or pass through Rome. The framing story is of Ignacio, a married man, who finds a wallet dropped by another passenger going on the flight to Rome, which contains a photo of the woman he loved and left ten years ago. He now decides that he wants her back. It is grim, serious and intense, with no humour, just a story about how romantic relationships are generally doomed to failure but friendship might be a viable alternative.
The latest addition to my website is Joan Perucho‘s Les històries naturals (Natural History). This is a spoof of the vampire story, clearly influenced by Hollywood/Hammer Horror, set in the First Carlist War (1830s). We follow the story of Antoni de Montpalau, a learned aristocrat, who takes the liberal side in the Carlist wars. He is interested in natural history, investigating various exotic and non-existent species, before setting out on the trail of a 700-year old vampire masquerading as a Carlist guerrilla, called The Owl, who is terrorising a local village and helping the Carlist cause. He makes common cause with the historical Ramón Cabrera, the enemy and, in real life, a very nasty man. It is all great fun and the ghosts of Max Shreck, Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee would have enjoyed it.
The latest addition to my website is Agustí Bartra‘s Crist de 200.000 braços [Christ of 200,000 Arms]. This novel is set entirely in the Argelès-sur-Mer concentration camp in southern France, which housed 100,000 prisoners (hence the title) at the end of and after the Spanish Civil War, who had fled Francoist Spain. Bartra was a prisoner there. He was primarily a poet and this is a poetic novel, while not shunning the grim reality of life in a bitterly cold camp, rife with disease, fleas and a diet of lentils. Four former comrades come together. They build a shelter, tell each other strange tales and look back to their previous lives, while trying to survive as best they can.
The latest addition to my website is Pere Gimferrer‘s Fortuny (Fortuny). Gimferrer is primarily a poet – he wrote only two novels – and this is definitely a poet’s novel. It consists of many small chapters, mainly set in Venice, sensuously described, generally involving historical people from Henry James to Julie Christie, from Émilienne d’Alençon, who appeared in À la recherche du temps perdu to Orson Welles, his love affair with Dolores del Rio and his film of Othello. All are linked by the Catalan Fortuny family, father, a major painter in his day Marià Fortuny, his wife, Cecilia de Madrazo (link in Spanish), whose father was a painter and who was a model for her husband, and their son, the designer Mariano Fortuny, who made his career in Venice. It is great fun, very poetic and very sumptuous but probably not really a novel..
The latest addition to my website is Terenci Moix‘s El dia que va morir Marilyn [The Day Marilyn Died]. This book, dedicated to everyone who was twenty the day Marilyn Monroe died, had considerable success in Catalonia and Spain. It tells the story of Barcelona and the era from the 1930s to the 1960s as seen through the eyes of a specific family. The main character is Bruno but we also follow the story of his parents (father, pro-Franco, fought in the Civil War; mother seeking greater independence for herself), his best friend, Jordi, who is gay when it was illegal in Spain and his sickly brother, Carlitus, who dies during the course of the book. The key issues, apart from Jordi’s homosexuality, are popular culture, particularly the cinema, economic improvements, marital infidelity and political changes. It is very detailed and very well written but, not sadly, published in English.
The latest addition to my website is Ada Castells‘ Mirada [Look]. It seemingly tells the story of a ghost, a former detective, who is obsessed with a beautiful model called Blanca and falls from scaffolding and dies when spying on her. As a ghost he continues to spy on her. He notices a growth on her shoulder which her father, a doctor, examines and tells her that she must keep out of the light. She works as a barmaid and then exotic dancer in the club but, when the lights shine on her, she realises that she is invisible. However, we also learn from the detective’s wife that this is merely a story that her husband is writing basing Blanca on her and she is very upset about it. It is a clever story and makes a change from the usual Catalan novel about the past and Franco and the Civil War.
The latest addition to my website is Montserrat Roig‘s El temps de les cireres [The Time of Cherries]. It tells the story of Natalia, who has been away twelve years from her home town of Barcelona, primarily in England, and is now returning home, in 1974, aged forty and just eighteen months before the death of Franco. She has issues with her family, primarily her father and brother, and we follow the difficult life of her mother (now dead), her sister-in-law and her aunt, all of whom have had less than successful marriages. We see the influence of the Civil War on all of these people, invariably negative, and we see that in some respects that Barcelona has not changed but, in other respects, is doing so. Natalia tries to come to terms with both her family and late-Franco Barcelona.