Category: Spain Page 1 of 9

Enrique Vila-Matas: Montevideo

The latest addition to my website is Enrique Vila-MatasMontevideo. Our unnamed narrator has written one novel while living in Melilla, turned to drug dealing in Paris and goes back to his writing career in Barcelona before setting off on his travels, particularly to Montevideo, where he explores a hotel, which was the subject of stories by two different Argentinian writers, concerning a hidden door. This leads on to other explorations of doors and their symbolic meaning in life and literature, including one that leads from Paris to Bogotá. However, as we would expect from Vila-Matas, we meet numerous writers, both real and fictitious, with their stories, ideas and oddities and we also learn about ambiguity in both life and literature. Yes it is something of a hodgepodge but, as usual, from Vila-Matas fascinating and learned.

Manuel Astur: San: el libro de los milagros (Of Saints and Miracles)

The latest addition to my website is Manuel Astur‘s San: el libro de los milagros (Of Saints and Miracles). Marcelino, a naive young man living in Asturias, a remote rural part of Spain, is cheated out of his farm by his conniving brother (who takes after their drunken, violent father). He kills his brother and flees to the hills. He manages – just – to keep one step ahead of the police but soon becomes not just a local folk hero – tourists come from miles around to try and get a glimpse of him -but is even declared a saint, with the eponymous miracles occurring. He is oblivious to it all, intent on merely surviving. Astur mixes in the story of Marcelino’s hard childhood, local myths and local anecdotes as well as a view of life in a remote part of the country.

Javier Cercas: Terra Alta (Even the Darkest Night)

The latest addition to my website is Javier CercasTerra Alta (Even the Darkest Night). Cercas has now turned to crime novels – two more in this series have been published in Spanish. We are following a Spanish police officer – Melchor Marín – who had been a drug dealer for which he was sent to prison. When his mother, a prostitute, is brutally murdered and he reads Les Misérables in prison, he sees the light and, with help from his lawyer, is able to conceal his background and become a police officer. When he shoots four Islamic terrorists, it is decided to move him to a remote region – Terra Alta, where nothing happens. When something does happen – the richest man in the area and his wife are tortured and killed – he is on the case, and continues when his superiors have closed the case. Inevitably, things are not as they seem and, also inevitably, the Spanish Civil War creeps in. However, it is the colourful Melchor Marín that makes this book interesting.

Almudena Grandes: El corazón helado (The Frozen Heart)

The latest addition to my website is Almudena GrandesEl corazón helado (The Frozen Heart). This is a long and complicated novel set mainly in the present but very much looking back to the Spanish Civil War. We follow the stories of two related families, one primarily Francoist and one primarily Republican, and their respective fates during and following the Civil War. The Republican one behaved more or less honourably, the Francoist one did not, cheating the other out of its property. We see much of this through the eyes of Álvaro, son of the Francoist Julio, though he himself is left-wing who, after his father’s death meets one of his father’s bankers and starts an adulterous affair with her. At the same time, he gradually uncovers some of his father’s dirty deeds and what happened to his father’s mother who did not die of tuberculosis, as his father had always claimed. What he uncovers and his affair will disrupt the family. Grandes, who sadly died a couple of weeks ago (27 November, 2o21), superbly exposes some of the non-military horrors of the Civil War and its aftermath.

Juli Zeh: Neujahr (New Year)

The latest addition to my website is Juli Zeh‘s Neujahr (New Year). Henning is on holiday in Lanzarote with his wife, Theresa, and young children. On New Year’s Day 2018 he decides to go cycling on his own up the steep slope to Mount Atalaya. During his ride he thinks of his life, which is not going well, particularly because of frequent unexplained panic attacks. He and Theresa both work half-time to share child-minding duties but that is not going well, either. As he reaches the summit he is exhausted and dehydrated and is rescued by a fellow German but collapses and recalls in detail a traumatic event from his childhood which may or may not explain his panic attacks. As always Zeh gives us an excellent psychological story.

Javier Serena : Últimas palabras en la Tierra (Last Words on Earth)

The latest addition to my website is Javier Serena‘s Últimas palabras en la Tierra (Last Words on Earth). This is a fictionalised account of a novelist called Ricardo Funes who is based on the great Chilean novelist, Roberto Bolaño. We follow his struggles, firstly in Mexico and his involvement with what is called here negativism but is clearly based on Infrarealism, to his struggles in Spain where he faces rejection but ruthlessly sticks to his literary principles. He has a fairly happy marriage and two children but also health issues, caused by his chain-smoking. Above all success is hard to come by. We see the story through the eyes of a fictitious fellow writer as well as through the eyes of Funes and his wife. Whether you enjoy the work of Bolaño or not, this is a fascinating account of a writer’s struggles.

Almudena Grandes: Los aires difíciles (The Wind from the East)

The latest addition to my website is Almudena Grandes Los aires difíciles (The Wind from the East). Juan Olmero, a successful, unmarried orthopedic surgeon is moving from Madrid, with his his ten year old niece, Tamara, and his mentally handicapped brother, Alfonso to Jerez. Tamara’s parents have both died as the result of a car crash. We gradually learn that Juan has something of a past which is a key theme of the novel. Opposite the Olmeros is Sara Gómez, also unmarried, also from Madrid and also with something of a past, another key theme of the book. Can these two redeem themselves and their past by taking care of Tamara and Alfonso, as well as of their joint cleaner, Maribel and her son Andrés? And will the past come back to haunt them? Grandes tells a superb tale with a difficult moral conundrum.

Agustín Fernández Mallo: Trilogía de la guerra (The Things We’ve Seen)

The latest addition to my website is Agustín Fernández Mallo‘s Trilogía de la guerra (The Things We’ve Seen). As the Spanish title tells us this is a three-part novel, but published in a single volume in English. It is a novel in the style of W G Sebald. The first part is about a writer who goes to a conference on the Island of San Simón in the Vigo estuary but he is more interested in the fact that the island was a prisoner-of-war camp in the Spanish Civil War than in the conference. He goes to New York, where he is able to learn more about a prisoner in the camp. The second book is the story of Kurt Montana, the fourth astronaut on the first Apollo moon mission. Apart from his redacted moon mission, the rest of his life has been less than successful. The final story is by the girlfriend of the narrator of the first book. He seems to have disappeared after the conference – she does not know he has gone to New York – so she heads to Honfleur to visit parts of Normandy they had visited together and ruminate on a host of issues à la Sebald. The three stories are linked, often in unexpected ways but, above all, this novel is full of fascinating ideas, plot twists and ruminations on a variety of topics.

Almudena Grandes: Las edades de Lulú (The Ages of Lulu)

The latest addition to my website is Almudena GrandesLas edades de Lulú (The Ages of Lulu). This is undoubtedly the most erotic/[pornographic novel I have ever read. Our eponymous heroine, Lulu, the seventh of nine children is essentially neglected by her parents and looks for love in all the wrong places, the wrong places being unlimited and hugely varied sex, prompted by a romp with her brother’s best friend, who is twelve years her senior and who, when she is fifteen, essentially sexually assaults her, albeit with her not unwilling consent. They will maintain a highly colourful and varied sexual relationship and have a daughter, till she moves away from him, and finds sex elsewhere, including on her own. It made a list of the 100 best novels in Spanish of the 21st century but did not really work for me.

Javier Cercas: El monarca de las sombras (Lord of All Dead)

The latest addition to my website is Javier CercasEl monarca de las sombras (Lord of All Dead). This is another non-fiction novel from Cercas, as he sets out to find the true story about his great-uncle, Manuel Mena, who fought for the wrong side, i.e. Franco, in the Spanish Civil War. Most of those involved are dead, Mena himself having been killed at the Battle of the Ebro, aged nineteen. He investigates Mena’s story and finds missing element and inaccurate information but he also looks into the motives of people like Mena and others who supported Franco against what Cercas considers their own interests and investigates these and other issues such as honour and glory as well as the idea that history is often more complicated than it seems at first glance. It is another first-class work from Cercas.

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