The latest addition to my website is Soledad Puértolas‘ Burdeos (Bordeaux). The novel tells three stories, with several of the characters appearing in two or all three stories. The first two are set in Bordeaux, with the third set in Bordeaux and elsewhere. The characters are nearly all all well-to-do bourgeoisie. The main theme of the stories is that marriage/close relationships are not a good thing, particularly for women, with the men being controlling, patronising or simply taking their wives for granted. Despite this, the solitary life, which several of the characters lead, is not really a good thing either. In the third story, Elizabeth Parker gives some advice, namely marry anyone as long as they love you. Perhaps this is the message Puértolas wishes to share.
The latest addition to my website is Eduardo Mendoza‘s El misterio de la cripta embrujada (Mystery of the Enchanted Crypt). The novel, Mendoza’s second, is nominally a detective story. However, the detective is a homeless man who is on (temporary) release from a mental hospital. Under orders from the police, he is investigating the temporary disappearance and then reappearance of girls from a posh Catholic convent school in Barcelona. They are using him because of his connections to the underworld, though he soon finds out that it is more his cunning, lying, deception and ability to adopt multiple personalties that is of more use. Mendoza has great fun with the complicated and unpredictable plot and brings in a host of odd characters (our hero’s prostitute sister, a large Swedish sailor and a possible giant creature in the enchanted crypt of the title being just a few). Mendoza has said that this is his favourite of all his novels and you can see why, as it is great fun to read and must have been great fun to write.
The latest addition to my website is Eduardo Mendoza‘s La verdad sobre el caso Savolta (The Truth about the Savolta Case). This novel, Mendoza’s first, is set in Barcelona between 1917 and 1920. The eponymous Savolta is the name of a family and the Barcelona armaments factory they own. Paul-André Lepprince, a seemingly rich and elegant Frenchman arrives in Barcelona at the beginning if the War and is soon given a senior position in the firm. Our hero, Javier Miranda, who works as a legal assistant, is detailed to assist Lepprince and soon becomes embroiled in Lepprince’s efforts to control striking workers. When the other senior managers of the firm are murdered, apparently by anarchists, Miranda is even more embroiled and is suspected by Inspector Vázquez. We know from the beginning that he somehow gets out and emigrates to the United States but there is a long and complicated plot before we find out the details of what really happened. The book has been translated into English but is currently out of print.
The latest addition to my website is Manuel Vilas‘ Ordesa. This book has had considerable success in Spain, both commercially and critically. It is essentially autobiographical, a tale recounted by Vilas after his divorce, in which he examines the lives of his parents, of himself and of his sons and links the events and circumstances of their lives to what is going on in Spain. It is uniformly gloomy and pessimistic, though not without some humour and a very strong affection for his late parents. Spain, however, does not fare well in this book, which will join the increasing number of books published in Spain about how dismal the country is, particularly since the 2008 financial crisis. Vilas does not hold back either on his criticism of Spain and of himself (alcoholic, divorced because of infidelities, guilt about loss of parents). Self-flagellation may be more a Spanish thing than the UK/US thing so it will be interesting to see how well the book does in English (to be published by Canongate in the UK (in April 2020) and Riverhead in the US).
The latest addition to my website is Germán Sierra‘s The Artifact. Sierra is a Spanish neuroscientist but this book was written in English, though his previous novels were written in Spanish. It is essentially a novel and treatise on the future of the species, dealing with artificial intelligence, quasi-life forms, new technologies and how we relate to them and a Ballardian car accident. There are two plots, one involving the narrator who loses an arm when his car is hit by an AI controlled drone and another when he is sent an MRI from a former student showing a brain with an artifact (an anomaly seen during visual representation in MRI. It is a feature appearing in an image that is not present in the original object.) However, what makes this book so interesting is Sierra’s discussion of a whole range of biological, quasi-biological, cybernetic, neurological and other developments in our species. It is one of the most original novels I have read for some time. Not an easy read but very well worth it.
The latest addition to my website is Fernando Aramburu‘s Patria (Homeland). This book has been hugely successful in Spain and has been translated into several languages and will appear in English in March 2019. It tells the story of two Basque families. In one, the father, Txato, is murdered by ETA, the Basque separatist group as he does not pay the revolutionary tax, a contribution demanded by the ETA from Basque businesses. The other family, initially close friends with the first, have a son, Joxi Mari, who becomes an ETA killer and who may or may not have killed Txato. We follow the lives of all the members of the two families – two children in the first case, three in the second – and their lives both before and after the murder of Txato, including Joxe Mari’s time in prison (a sentence of 126 years). Aramburu is clearly more sympathetic to the victims, particularly, Txato’s widow, Bittori, but understands even if he does not agree with the ETA side and their supporters. Aramburu tells a first-class story about what it means to be Basque during the ETA era and how it affected all sides.
The latest addition to my website is Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Eszkoriál [Escorial]. This book follows the life of Francis Borgia, descendant of those Borgias, later Director-General of the Society of Jesus and canonised nearly a hundred years after his death. He had a colourful life and Szentkuthy inevitably makes it more colourful, while being critical of Spain of that era (sixteenth century). Though the novel is primarily set in Spain, we spend a fair amount of time in legendary China, meet Francis’ great-aunt Lucrezia Borgia and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, among other notables, and follow the contemporary political situation. As always, Szentkuthy charges off on tangents, plays havoc with historical accuracy and chronology and has great fun condemning Catholic Spain.
The latest addition to my website is Javier Marías‘ Berta Isla. This is, in my view, by far his masterpiece. It tells the story of Tomás, half-English, half-Spanish, with a gift for languages and the eponymous Berta Isla. They meet and fall in love in Madrid. Tomás goes to university in Oxford, while Berta stays in Madrid. In Oxford, he risks a prison sentence and can only escape if he joins the British Secret Service, which he does. Returning to Madrid, he marries Berta and nominally works in the British Embassy in Madrid. However, his work requires increasingly long absences and it is only during one of these absences that Berta has reason to suspect his double life. He will neither deny nor confirm it. He then goes off at the beginning of the Falklands War and then disappears for years, without any word. Berta has to worry firstly what has happened to him and also whether, as she says at the beginning of the novel, is he the man she married. The power of the state, the horrors of war and, in particular, dirty war as well as the effect of Tomás’ double life on the couple are the key themes of this book, which is superbly written and tells a very original story.
The latest addition to my website is Enrique Vila-Matas‘ Mac y su contratiempo [Mac and His Problem]. Mac is a bankrupt builder who plans to rewrite the (very poor) novel, in the form of interrelated stories, written thirty years ago by a Barcelona neighbour, now a moderately famous writer This novel is narrated by a ventriloquist and, to show the ventriloquist’s different voices, the author has written each story in the style of a different famous short-story writer. Things get more complicated when the stories start overlapping with real life, including one story which turns out to be about Mac’s wife from the period before he met her. As usual from Vila-Matas, there is lots of literary learning, a fair amount of post-modernism and a witty and imaginative story.
The latest addition to my website is Max Aub‘s Campo de los almendros [Field of the Almond Trees], the sixth, last and by far the longest in his Magic Labyrinth series about the Spanish Civil War. The war is almost over at the start of this book, with the Republicans barely holding on to Valencia and Alicante, and Franco about to enter Madrid. Much of the book is about the ensuing chaos as the Republicans endeavour to converge on Alicante, where they expect French and British ships to take them into exile. The French-Spanish border is now virtually blocked by the Francoists. More and more arrive and more and more wait as Aub superbly describes the chaos as well as the rumours. A British ship does come but refuses to take criminals and murderers. A French ship is rumoured to be arriving but is frightened off by the Francoists. In the end, most of the Republicans end up in the Field of Almond Trees of the title, a concentration camp. It is a sad story to the end of a war and Aub keeps the story going with, inevitably, the endless discussions by those waiting about the war, what went wrong and what will happen to them, as well as about any number of other topics. It is also a fitting end to the whole series, if not the greatest Spanish Civil War novel, certainly one of the the longest.