The latest novel on my website is Jordi Coca‘s Sota la pols (Under the Dust). This is a very grim fictionalised autobiography of a boy growing up in the slums of Barcelona during the Franco era. Our unnamed narrator lives in poverty (no running water in their one-room flat), with an abusive father. His younger brother dies of meningitis, his grandfather was shot at the end of the Civil War (though it is not clear why), he is bullied at school and, as his best friend succinctly puts it, life was shit. His only vague redemption is meeting an even poorer family who, at least, have some books and he is introduced to Crime and Punishment and Robinson Crusoe but even there, he seems to abandon reading. His father falls out with his brother – they are running a business together – and is also in trouble with the law. There seems to be no hope of escape, with only the prospect of a badly paid job ahead.
The latest addition to my website is Llorenç Villalonga‘s Bearn o la sala de las muñecas (Bearn or The Doll’s Room; The Doll’s Room). The book has been published in English with two different titles (see above), though the translation is the same. It tells the story of an old Mallorcan noble family, the Bearns. The Senyors – Don Toni and Dona Maria Antònia – both die within an hour of one another at the beginning of the book, having had no children (or, rather, no legitimate children; Don Toni has various illegitimate children he does not recognise). The story is told by Don Joan, the family chaplain, who was unofficially adopted by the Senyors as a child, when destined for a career as a swineherd. Don Joan has a lot of affection for the Senyors, despite Don Toni’s many faults (he runs off to Paris with his eighteen-year old niece, Xima; he is, in Don Joan’s eyes, often heretical). Then there is the mystery of the dolls’ room, permanently locked with no-one allowed to enter it. What does it contain? Above all, this is an affectionate account of a way of life that has long since gone (the story is set in the nineteenth century) and which Villalonga clearly – to some degree – regrets.
The latest addition to my website is Joan Sales‘ Incerta glòria (Uncertain Glory). This is a long rambling novel but is considered the best Catalan Civil War novel. It focusses on four people. The first is Lluis, an intellectual and a lawyer who lives in his own world, though he has a common-law wife, Trini, and a son back in Barcelona. He meets the widow of the local lord of the manor, a working woman who had married the lord, and he falls for her. His best friend is the cynical Soleràs, who is secretly in love with Trini himself but whom she considers as a brother rather than a lover. The second part of the novel follows Trini in Barcelona, both her life before the War and her current life, agonising over Lluis and his fidelity (he hardly writes to her) and suffering the problems in Barcelona, while reminiscing about her past. The third part focusses on Cruells, the unit medical orderly, who is religious (a dangerous, at times fatal thing to be in Barcelona), who becomes increasingly disillusioned. We see the war is 99% boredom, 1% sheer terror approach, as the unit sees some action, which gets worse as the war progresses, but much of the time they spend drinking, chasing women and philosophising. It is perhaps a bit long but still a worthwhile read to see a picture of the Republican cause that is not always rosy.
The latest addition to my website is Baltasar Porcel‘s Primaveras y otoños (Springs and Autumns). The novel is set at a Christmas Eve dinner in modern times at Taltavull Hall, home of the Taltavull family, living in Orlandis, Majorca (based on Porcel’s home town of Andratx). The novel tells the stories of several of the key characters, of some of their nearby relatives, and visitors (who are related to them). The key subjects of most of the stories are, inevitably, sex and death though the Civil War, travel abroad and other topics do appear. Some of the family members are very decent people, others have blood on their hands (particularly from the Civil War), some make good parents and spouses, others do not. In other words, they are like many other families even if one or two of them have more colourful stories(a clash with South American guerillas, involvement with a British spy in Burma, for example). Porcel tells his stories very well, with each family member proving to be different from the others,
The latest addition to my website is Jesús Moncada‘s Camí de sirga (The Towpath). This is is factionalised account of the town of Mequinenza, Moncada’s home town. which was moved to the other side of the river Ebro to make way for a hydroelectric dam. Moncada gives an affectionate but at times mocking account of the town and its inhabitants as they prepare for the move, delving back into the history of the town. We follow, in particular the story of Carlota Torres, from her childhood to the time of the move. She remains the last hold-out, refusing to move. There are many divides in the town but, in particular the divide between the rich and poor, which comes to the fore during and after the Civil War. The rich are hypocritical, conducting numerous extramarital affairs, while condemning immorality. The town has done well out of coal, particularly in the two world wars, and shipping on the Ebro. Moncada gives us a rich account of many of the people of the town, past and present, rich in humour but also in affection, at times, poignancy.
The latest addition to my website is Víctor Català‘s Solitud (Solitude). Víctor Català (real name: Caterina Albert i Paradís) published this novel in 1905 but, though she lived to 1966, only published one more novel. It was this novel that made her name. It is both a feminist novel but also a fine story. A newly wed couple, Matias and Mila, have to go up into the mountains to run a hermitage, used by hunters and the like when the weather is fine but also associated with St. Pontius, the local saint. Mila is befriended by the shepherd, Gaietà, a good man. She is attracted to him and to a younger local man, who is engaged to someone else. Her attraction to these men is helped by the fact that her husband is lazy, runs up debts and, eventually, takes up gambling. However, there is another problem – Anima – the wild and very nasty mountain man. He is also attracted to Mila. It all ends badly but it is a fine tale and if there is a moral, it might well be Be careful who you marry!
The latest addition to my website is Clarice Lispector‘s O lustre (The Chandelier). This is Lispector’s second novel, written when she was in her early twenties, and now published in English more than seventy years after publication in Portuguese. Much of the novel takes place in the head of Virginia, whom we first meet as a girl under the sway of her controlling brother, whom she adores, and her bullying father. In the second part of the novel, she is an adult. Her brother has married and she has a boyfriend, Vicente. However, she is not sure whether she loves him and still lives very much inside in her head. She heads off back home where nothing has changed and still does not know where she belongs. Most of the novel takes place inside her head and we get a detailed and superbly well written story of a complex and insecure girl/woman.
The latest addition to my website is Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Fekete Reneszánsz (Black Renaissance). This is the second in his St Orpheus Breviary series. It has not yet been translated into English (I read it in French) but will be appearing from Contra Mundum Press in the not too distant future. Nominally about Claudio Monteverdi, his opera L’incoronazione di Poppea and Venice, these three scarcely make an appearance as Szentkuthy romps through various parts of European intellectual history, including Tacitus (Monteverdi’s source for information on Poppea), Tiberius, Empress Theodora and the man she hid for twelve years Anthimus, Pope Sixtus IV, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi and Roger Ascham, tutor to the future Elizabeth I. How are these people connected? All too often they are not but this does not stop Szentkuthy setting off on innumerable tangents to tell their stories and to make his point about the dualities in European intellectual history. It is enormous fun and full of great learning, if you can keep up with him.
The latest addition to my website is Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès‘ L’Île du Point Némo (Island of Point Nemo). Like his earlier work, this is a madcap romp, with adventures, sex and violence, world travel and characters from all over the world. It features amputated feet, a racing pigeon fancying, breast-loving Chinese manufacturer of e-readers, the Bloop, the Battle of Gaugamela and, of course, Point Nemo as well as a character called John Shylock Holmes who is not Sherlock Holmes though he almost is, two women in a coma, Creationist terrorists and the impotent Dieumercie Bonacieux. It is great fun, post-modern and thoroughly unpredictable.
The latest addition to my website is Gloria Guardia‘s Tiniebla blanca [White Darkness]. The unnamed narrator, like Guardia, is a Panamanian student at Vassar College. One evening, while in New York, she has forgotten her money and tracks down an uncle and aunt, Antonio and Carmen. They are very friendly but she soon discovers that Antonio is perhaps too friendly. However, Carmen is eager to assure her that she is like the daughter they never had (they have no children) and hopes that she will help repair their failing marriage. However, when she is staying there one evening, Carmen is absent and uncle and niece behave in a decidedly un-uncle-and-niece like manner. Guardia was only twenty and still at Vassar when she wrote this. I hope it was not autobiographical.