best worst combined efforts of Royal Mail and Australia Post, I recently received some more reading fare from the wonderful Hispabooks. The first of the three is by a writer who was included in Granta’s Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists issue, a man whose sentences flow smoothly and whose stories entertain and intrigue. So, without further ado, let’s take a trip to Spain…
Andrés Barba’s Rain Over Madrid (translated by Lisa Dillman) is a collection of four novellas running to just over two-hundred pages. Each takes place in the Spanish capital, and the stories are mostly about people coming to terms with love and family – fairly commonplace topics, but handled nicely.
The first piece, ‘Fatherhood’ sees a semi-successful musician becoming a father when his rich girlfriend unexpectedly falls pregnant. While the relationship with the mother is fairly shortlived, he realises that fatherhood is something that lasts forever:
“It seemed then, for the first time, that a sort of transference took place; he didn’t know how else to explain it – a boundless well of emotion, and also pain at the fact that intimacy and natural behaviour were not possible between them. Until that moment, he’d only ever sensed it in the vaguest of ways, but now it seemed undeniable.”
‘Fatherhood’, p.33 (Hispabooks, 2014)
The story extends over several years, with Barba chronicling the man’s attempt to stay close to the boy he rarely sees. Will he ever be able to break through the barrier of politeness separating them?
The other stories then move on to see matters through the eyes of women. In ‘Guilt’, a married woman is forced to act as the focal point for her family, with matters coming to a head when she is forced to look for (yet another) live-in home help for her ageing, cantankerous mother. The main character of ‘Fidelity’, by contrast, is a teenage girl discovering sex for the first time and generally having a wonderful time. However, her summer in the sun turns a little sour when she finds out that she’s not the only one in her family having some fun.
The final piece, ‘Shopping’, follows a woman approaching middle age and her glamorous mother, Nelly. This is no maternal figure, rather a whirlwind in Prada, and her idea of being ‘natural’ is not what the daughter would hope for:
“Not so for Nelly. Nelly is natural like a typhoon is natural, like all self-centered egotists, like a disaster, like the Grand Canyon, like a luxury item ensconced in an absurdly minimalist display case in a glittery shop window.”
As they go shopping in the snow for Christmas presents, the daughter sees chinks in her mother’s armour for the first time, making it easier for her to make allowances for Nelly’s bossy behaviour. After all, everyone gets old…
Rain Over Madrid is an enjoyable read with four excellent stories. Despite the extended time span of the first two stories, it almost seems as if the book is divided into seasons, as we move from the eternal spring of ‘Fatherhood’, to the winter streetscape of ‘Shopping’. Each story looks at a moment of realisation, a time when a life changes direction. Not all of the turning points are dramatic, but they’re all important in their own way.
The protagonists (mostly written in the first person) struggle with relationships, and each must deal with big personalities in their lives, whether they be lovers, sisters, fathers or mothers. Introverts for the most part, yet desiring emotion and human contact, the central characters are confronted by people who are completely self-absorbed and self-obsessed. In order to get what they want from their relationships, Barba’s creations must make an effort to assert themselves, even though it may seem easier at times to just go with the flow.
The stories are written in an excellent style, calm, casual and very easy to read. I enjoyed Dillman’s work with the translation as the stories flow nicely. There are no jarring tones, and the dialogue and description are seamlessly integrated, making for an excellent read. There are a few obvious Americanisms, but you can’t have everything, especially when the translator comes from the States 😉
Rain Over Madrid is another enjoyable work from Hispabooks, and it’s definitely a book many will enjoy. The four stories are interesting, very accessible and easy to read in a single setting, despite their length – hopefully this bodes well for getting more from Barba into English soon 🙂