The latest addition to my website is Clara Usón‘s Corazón de napalm [Heart of Napalm]. There are two stories going in. The first concerns Fede, an overweight thirteen year old boy, whose parents spend their life partying and doing drugs. When it all goes wrong, the parents split up and Fede and his father move to Santander, where his father has a new wife. Fede and his stepmother hate each other and Fede decides to run away to find his mother. It does not work out well. Meanwhile, Marta is painting for the famous artist, Maristany. He has a tremor so he has the ideas and she carries them out. The clients are none the wiser. However, she is fired by Maristany’s new wife, Solange. Sometime later she meets Juan, a judge specialising in juvenile crime. They start an affair, which has its ups and downs, while she struggles to make a living, till Solange phones her after Maristany’s death, to carry on her work. Though various things go wrong in both stories, the two do converge and in a surprising way. It is a very clever book with interesting ideas on art and juvenile crime but sadly not available in English.
The latest addition to my website is Sara Mesa‘s Cuatro por cuatro (Four by Four). This is a somewhat chilling novel. Most of the action takes place in Wybrany College, a mixed-sex boarding school, presumably in Spain. Most of the students come from rich families, though there are some poorer students on scholarships or children of the staff. The college is geographically isolated, as the rest of region seems to be suffering from a breakdown in law and order and environmental problems. Though the school is meant to be a haven, it gradually becomes apparent that something is wrong. Celia, the narrator of the first part of the book, and the assistant headmaster disappear, no-one knows why. In the second part, narrated by a new substitute teacher, Isidro, it gets worse with more disappearances and deaths and strange goings-on and not just in the school. Mesa cleverly builds up the tension, showing a world slowly falling apart but with people unsure of the cause and unable to deal with it.
The latest addition to my website is Andrés Barb‘s Las Manos Pequeñas (Such Small Hands). Marina, a seven-year old girl, is involved in a car accident, in which her parents are killed and she is injured. She receives both physical and psychological treatment – the psychologist gives her a doll which she cherishes. She is then sent to an orphanage. It is soon clear that she does not fit in with the other girls, all of whom get on well together. She stands aloof from them and soon they are teasing and bullying her, all of which she stoically puts up with. However, when they take her doll and then bury it, she does react. She devises a game whereby, at night in the dormitory, one of the girls must be the doll, wearing a special dress and make-up and being treated by the others as a doll, while she, the doll, cannot speak. This is a superb novel about groups and fitting-in but also the darker side of human nature, as seen in children.
The latest addition to my website is Andrés Barba‘s República luminosa (A Luminous Republic). The novel is set in an unnamed Latin American country. Our unnamed narrator has recently taken over the social service department in a small town, by the jungle, with the task of helping the indigenous community. Gradually he and the people of the town notice groups of children, aged nine to thirteen, coming into the town and begging. Where did they come from and what is the strange language they seem to be using? Gradually, they become more aggressive. They seem to disappear at night and no-one knows where to. Moreover, they do not seem to have a leader. When they start attacking people, the police go searching for them but without success. When they attack a supermarket, injuring and killing people, they seem to disappear and cannot be found. Barba gives us a brilliant novel on the innocence (and lack thereof) of children, on how adults can often be helpless dealing with them and on various theories as to why these children do what they do, with a bit of post-truth thrown in.
The latest addition to my website is Eduardo Mendoza‘s El rey recibe [The King Receives]. This is apparently the first in a trilogy about Spain in the second half of the 20th century but, quite frankly, it does not work, not least because not much happens and the hero/narrator is, by his own admission, not very exciting. We follow Rufo in his career in Spain – journalist, editor of gossip magazine – and then in New York – unspecified job with Spanish Chamber of Commerce, his somewhat messy but not very interesting love life, his meeting with the Prince of Livonia and his wife and a few events in Spain and the US. Nothing really happens to him of much interest, his acquaintances, colleagues and family are no more interesting than he is. It has not been translated into any other language, so if you read Spanish, do not bother and if you do not read Spanish, do not look out for a translation.
The latest addition to my website is Eduardo Mendoza‘s Riña de gatos (An Englishman in Madrid). Though unusually for Mendoza set in Madrid instead of Barcelona and environs, this book is his usual mockery of all and sundry, particularly the eponymous Englishman. He is Anthony Whitelands, a thirty something English art expert, specialising in Spanish art. The time is early 1936, just prior to the start of the Civil War. The country is in turmoil. He has been given a commission to advise on some paintings for a Spanish duke who wants to sell what he can to finance his escape from Spain, if that proves necessary. Whitelands gets caught up in the standard complicated Mendoza plot, involving the painter Velazquez, the murkier side of both British and Spanish politics, Soviet agents, a whore with a heart of gold and his own passions for alcohol, women and art. He meets various historial figures, including General Franco, and he bumbles around, making one wrong move after another. It is, as always with Mendoza, great fun, with lots of mockery and a complicated funny plot.
The latest addition to my website is A. G. Porta‘s Me llamo Vila-Matas, como todo el mundo [My Name is Vila-Matas, Like Everyone. This is a short absurdist book, consisting of a dialogue between two unnamed people, who are called Vila-Matas, like everyone. The basic premise is that the Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas has come to New York to appear in an Off-Broadway version of one of his books. However, Allison, the promoter, has disappeared and Vila-Matas is searching for her (both in the real world and in various books), while also putting on two plays of his own. Meanwhile, our two dialoguers are discussing Vila-Matas and his search, the future of the novel, absurdist literature, the theatre and similar topics, all the while maintaining that they are Enrique Vila-Matas like everyone, except, of course, when they are someone else. It is clever, it is witty, it is absurdist. Like everything else.
The latest addition to my website is Enrique Vila-Matas‘ Esta bruma insensata [That Mindless Mist]. This is Vila-Matas on form with his intellectual, literary, post-modern games. We follow the story of Simon Schneider, a man from Barcelona, who makes his living providing quotations to a successful US-based author, who turns out to be his younger brother. Simon has not seen Rainer, his brother, for twenty years and communicates only by email, Moreover, Rainer is a Pynchon-like recluse and no-one has seen him. One day Simon gets an email from his brother that he his coming to Barcelona and wants to meet him. He also learns that he is planning a non-fiction book, in which Simon dies. It is clever, witty, tricky, post-modern and a joy to read.
The latest addition to my website is Eduardo Mendoza‘s Una comedia ligera (A Light Comedy) . It set in the late 1940s, in and around Barcelona, as with most of Mendoza’s work. Our hero is Carlos Prullàs, a popular and successful playwright, who writes light comedies. We follow him around for a long while – food, women, gossip – when, about halfway through the book, there is a murder and he is the prime suspect. In usual Mendoza style, there is complex investigation, with Carlos coming in touch with all strata of Barcelona society and Mendoza mocking them. With dirty deeds in high places, a royalist plot and Carlos almost getting murdered himself, the second half is definitely more lively than the first. The book has been translated into English but is long since out of print.
The latest addition to my website is Eduardo Mendoza‘s Sin noticias de Gurb (No Word from Gurb). This follows Mendoza’s usual pattern, in that we see Barcelona and its inhabitants from the perspective of the narrator/protagonist. However, the difference is that the narrator is not from planet Earth but part of a two-man team (the eponymous Gurb is the other one) exploring the Universe. When they land, Gurb soon disappears and our narrator spends the rest of the book looking for him. We follow his struggle with humans, his view of humans and, in particular those from Barcelona, and his failed and increasingly ignored search for Gurb, as he is sidetracked by the difficulties of living on an alien planet. It is at times very funny, at others a bit silly.