Juana Salabert ‘The Golden Rule’


—The infamous Golden Rule inserted by force in our largely unimplemented constitutions, IMG_1267with which the Troika and their obedient local vizirs probably wipe their noses every day..***


Juana Salabert’s police mystery, read for Spanish lit month, is an angry story set in Madrid in 2012 at the height of the public indignation surrounding the arrogant treatment of the southern European countries during the debt crisis, with austerity imposed through external pressure on these countries and the entailing social misery, and is one of the meanings of the title as illustrated in the opening quote.
Inspector Allarde is inspecting the second “Cash for Gold” killing, jewelers that in these depressed times are making money from buying gold and family jewels have been targeted by a killer who signs his crimes with a clear message:


—To the loan shark. To the thief of carats and of lives. Vengeance is acted and will be again.***


A third killing takes place which at first seems to be one of the series but Allarde is not sure. This is a story of cupidity, greed and blackmail and as always the question is just how low will people stoop for money and how much is enough, leading to another possible meaning for the title:


—The only Golden Rule that works for money, for truly huge sums, for a fortune accumulated and overflowing and which is fructifying far from its owners eyes, is that it never seems enough.***


Salabert’s Madrid is a desperate and hurting place lived in by people just getting by and is an ideal background for a book about greed. I did at times think that the subject and the hero were the people of Madrid and not the detectives in the story, but only for fleeting moments, as the story itself is well constructed. This may well be the Author’s intent.

First Published in Spanish as “La Regla del oro” in 2015 by Alianza.
Translated into French by Myriam Chirousse as “La règle de l’or” and published by Métailié in 2017
*** My translation

Pablo Casacuberto ‘Scipion’


—That’s all I needed! I’d already been frozen out of my father’s Will, seen a gangster hijack my inheritance and demand that, in lieu of a ransom, IMG_1266I write the Eclogue of a rapist.***


In this book read for Spanish lit month, Pablo Casacuberto slowly introduces us into the tortured world of Anibal Brener, son of a recently deceased but famous historian, the professor Brener, as the story begins Anibal is visiting his dead father’s house, his own childhood home, with an estate agent and we are slowly lead to understand the incongruity of the situation, it has taken two years for Anibal to obtain permission from his own sister living in Brussels to gain access for a one hour visit to the empty home. We learn that Anibal’s sister has inherited everything, including the house and that Anibal’s visit is to pick up what little has been left him:


—In the closet of the adjoining room, the library, I leave three boxes containing certain objects that I consider useful for Anibal’s development.


Anibal is forty years old!
Which is the important ingredient in studies and transmission of history? This is the central point of the difficult relationship between Anibal and his father, Anibal’s historical studies and in a way his life can not get beyond the overwhelming importance of detail whereas his father’s work has been dedicated to ensuring that through a certain amount of romanticising people are drawn to and are interested in history.
The best example of this is the title of a proposed historical study by Anibal:


—Design and distribution of services in the public baths according to social strata in classical Rome***


An idea on which his erstwhile fiancé worked before handing to the Proffesor Brener:


—A closed envelope..containing, as the final blow, the nineteen pages of “Gone with the Water” which he referred to, after having read the text, as “an interesting version of an idea my son ruined by submerging it with boring details and useless information


As early in the book we learn that the proffesor had written a secret will for Anibal, We follow him, firstly in a quest for his inheritance, illustrated by the opening quote and especially in a search for himself.
Why did Casacuberto entitle his book Scipion? Because it was Scipion that defeated Hannibal in 202BC and that after a climax in the book Anibal is literally submerged as the Scipion within him emerges and leads him on a course to confront the true hidden traumatic events of his life.

First Published in Spanish as “Escipion” in 2000 by Inter zona.
Translated into French by Francois Gaudry as “Scipion” and published by Métailié in 2015
*** My translation

Delphine de Vigan ‘Based on a True Story’


Allison Jones:
—I know you weren’t yourself when you did this, Hedy.IMG_1259
Hedra Carlson:
—I know, I was YOU.


In Single White Female Seeks Same, Allison Jones lets Hedy into her life, into a power struggle where Hedy begins to dress and act like Allison and finally tries to entirely possess and replace Allison, we the audience think “why doesn’t she see it coming?”

In ‘Based on a True Story’,  Delphine de Vigan explores the themes of writer’s block, how does a writer move on from a success, and of the importance of truth in fiction in the modern day. The narrator of ‘Based on a True Story’ is called Delphine who has had a success with a book we can identify as de Vigan’s previous novel ‘Nothing Holds Back the Night’, thus set in the real. Through Delphine’s meeting with L a ghost writer she is able to present the arguments and counter arguments for basing fiction in the real, L explains that is what Delphine’s readers expect of her in these days where so much fiction is based on minor true news stories and we learn that in fact Delphine has been considering a subject based around reality television.

Faced with the choices between a fiction based on reality and a pure fiction Delphine is unable to write and as this situation persists L becomes more invasive, slowly building up the tension surrounding her, one day Delphine unearths a previous manuscript of her own and is invited for the first time to a dinner party at L’s where none of the other guests turn up:


L asked me to let her and her alone confidentially, read the unearthed manuscript, I promised.
Back at my place I pulled the curtains shut before turning the lights on, the possibility that L could have conceived and set up the whole masquerade with the single aim of softening me up came to my mind much later, I sat on my sofa and looked around me, I felt a strange feeling of relief and by contrast I suddenly understood what bothered me about L’s apartment: at her’s nothing was worn, yellowing, damaged, not a single object, piece of furniture or textile showed any traces of previous use.***


Soon after, L moves in “temporarily” with the weakened Delphine initially taking over her computer, her communications with the outside world and slowly her life, up to dressing like her and replacing her at literary events thus bringing to mind the initial quote from Single White Female.

The tension builds up to a crecendo when we realise that no one other than Delphine including her family, her partner or her friends have ever seen L. As de Vigan through Delphine then gives us another vision of the events and further argues between the need for fiction to be declared as having a tangible basis or not.

First Published in French as “D’après une histoire vraie” in 2015 by Lattès.
Translated into English by George Miller as “Based on a True Story” and published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2017
***My translation

Javier Cercas ‘Outlaws’


–Tell me when you met Zarco.
—At the beginning of the summer of 1978. It was a strange time. Or that’s how I remember it. Franco had died three years earlier, IMG_1254but the country was still governed by Franco’s laws and still smelled exactly the same as it did under Franco: like shit. I was sixteen years old back then, and so was Zarco. We lived very near each other, and very far away from each other.


The opening quote from this book read for Spanish lit month illustrates the setting for the initial events in Javier Cercas’s Outlaws, with the ending of Franco’s regime the social problems did not go away but were slowly allowed to come to the surface and amongst them the beginnings of juvenile delinquency.

The story is about the relationship between three people, Zarco a young gang leader at the beginning of the story and Tere a girl in the gang both coming from the shanty towns on the outskirts of Gerona and the sixteen year old “Gafitas” from a middle class suburb. Many years later Cañas the lawyer who  recounts this his first meeting with Sarko and Tere:


–What’s up, Gafitas?, asked Zarco, taking my place at the controls of the machine. He looked me in my bespectacled eyes with his very blue ones, spoke with a husky voice, had a centre parting in his hair and wore a tight denim jacket over a tight beige T-shirt. He repeated, defiantly, What’s up? I was scared. Holding up my hands I said: I just finished. I turned to leave, but at that moment Tere stepped in my way and my face was a handspan from hers. My first impression was surprise; my second, of being completely dazzled. Like Zarco, Tere was very thin, dark, not very tall, with that springy outdoors air quinquis used to have back then….Going already?, she asked, smiling with her full, strawberry-red lips. I couldn’t answer because Zarco grabbed my arm and forced me to turn back around. You stay right there, Gafitas, he ordered, and started playing pinball on the Rocky Balboa machine.


The Outlaws is a series of interviews between the writer, Cañas who had been known as Gafitas in his gang days, the police detective from the events in the 70’s and who arrested Sarko following a tip off at a bank robbery, and who crucially let “Gafitas” get away and then the prison director from Gerona. How was “Gafitas” allowed to escape? Why did Tere not turn up for the robbery? These questions remain open throughout the story. Sarko as a first Of his kind Is romanticised by the media and then left to rot in Spanish jails:


–For Sarko everything went very fast in fact my impression is that when I knew him in the late 70s Sarko was a sort of precursor and when I saw him again in the late 90s he was almost an anachronism if not a posthumous persona
From precursor to anachronism in just 20 years?
That’s right, when I knew him he was a forerunner in a way of the masses of juvenile delinquents who filled the jails the newspapers radio television and cinema screens in the 80’s I’d say he not only announce the phenomenon he played the part better than anybody.


This book throughout these interviews, a process used to blur the lines between fiction and reality, seems at times to ramble on without clear aims as Cercas slowly and indirectly shapes for us, through the three narrators and the writer, a full view of his main character Cañas and Cercas’s writer tells us something about the story writing and his subject:


–The idea at first (was) to write a book about Sarko to denounce all the lies that have been told about him and tell the truth or a portion of the truth. But a person doesn’t write the books he wants to write but those he can or those he finds, the book I’ve found both is and isn’t that one


First Published in Spanish as “Las leyes de la frontera” in 2012 by Literatura Mondadori.
Translated into English by Anne McLean as “Outlaws” and published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2014

Rosa Montero ‘Tears in Rain’


–I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe, attack ships on fire off the of the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser gate.IMG_1253
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.


In Blade Runner, genetic engineering had lead to the “manufacture” of Replicants.  Replicants were essentially slaves who were not allowed to come to Earth, to assuage human fears that they could develop their own emotional reactions love, hate fear, anger envy, they were built with a fail safe device, a 4 year life span. The film deals with the crisis around the Nexus 6 model of Replicant where for the first time an element of memory was given to the Replicants. The films penultimate scene ends with the last escaped Replicant, Batty, dying and pronouncing the words shown in the opening quote from which Rosa Montero extracts the title of her book.

Rosa Montero’s sequel sets out to investigate  some of the ideas introduced but not developed in the film such as :
What is the importance of memory? And if memory can be created, what will this lead to?
If Replicants were allowed on earth what would be their status and how would they live together with humans?
The story is old from a Replicant point of view and was read for
Spanish lit month.

The central intrigue of the book is introduced but not yet analysed in the first chapter as the Main protagonist of the book, a private detective and a rep, Bruna Huskey opens her door to her neighbour, Cata Caïn who almost immediately attacks and tries to kill Bruna who then successfully stops her and calms her down, then follows this dialogue:


–Why did you do this to me? asked Bruna.
—Why did you do this to me? babbled the android. There was a deluded and feverish look in her catlike eyes.
—What have you taken? You’re high.
—You people drugged me; you’ve poisoned me, moaned the woman, and she started to cry with profound despair.
—We people? Who are we?
—You… technohumans… reps. You kidnapped me; you infected me; you implanted your filthy things to turn me into one of you. Why have you done this to me? What had I ever done to you?…
—What’s behind all this idiocy? Are you mad, or just pretending to be? You’re a replicant, too. Look in the mirror. Check out your eyes. You’re a technohuman like me. And you’ve just tried to strangle me.


An interesting premise in this book, and at the heart of the intrigue is that if Reps can be given memories then somebody must be writing them and that if a rep is not feeling good (after all he knows he has a very short life span), then there must be a market for memories, Bruna had herself:


–gone into the night searching for the impossible and on more than one occasion as dawn was breaking she’d been tempted to inhale a shot of memory, a fake fix of artificial life, she hadn’t done it and she was glad that was the case


Rosa Montero brings home to the reader, the complexity of thought of the Reps, genetically engineered humans, and the sadness surrounding their short lifespans and their painful deaths. The Reps are themselves to all intents and purposes the next wave of immigration and despite the fact that they are equal in law they are discriminated against. And classically here good and bad cannot be distinguished purely by race or species grounds alone.

Bruna Huskey is a complex hero with many flaws, she drinks as much as Harrison Fords character in the film, and finally there is of course a reason for her inner doubts and questions. I had great fun with this book, if you liked Blade runner here is a nuanced sequel chasing down a different angle, a well thought out intrigue and an interesting story.

First Published in Spanish as “Lágrimas en la lluvia” in 2012 by Booket.
Translated into English by Lilit Žekulin Thwaites as “Tears in Rain” and published by AmazonCrossing in 2012

José Carlos Somoza ‘Zigzag’


–The first human being from the past we have ever seen. There calm, on the screen. A real woman who really lived two thousand years ago. IMG_1252Where was she going, to market?What was she carrying in her bag? Had she seen Jesus preach?..Then something happened that took Elisa’s breath away. After a new cut the outline appeared in profile the head raised as if she was looking at the camera as if she had seen them all…Her eyes were missing as well as a large part of her face and even like that she seemed to be walking as if she could see perfectly.***


OncJosé Carlos Somoza brings to the reader a fiction based on science, and an esoteric thriller rolled into one. I enjoyed the story with some reticence addressed at the end of this post. The story concerns a group of scientists who are eventually brought together on an isolated tropical island to work for a nebulous private group, the Eagle Group, with the scientists and the this group having conflicting targets. The science, based on string theory was introduced at a level that I could follow and that intrigued me, the extrapolation of this theory to the project Zigzag, being able to unfurl a string to see events in the past was captivating.

The question asked by the conflict is if you could see some events in the past, what would you look for? The scientists grouped together are not just physicists but include palaeontologists and historians and in particular historians of christianism. The Eagle Group of course have more military and security type aims, going back to recent times and spying on someone who would not suspect if for instance, but before they can obtain the “tool” there are questions about its safety, an effect labelled “Impact”, the people seeing back in time are left profoundly effected and the scientists are to be the Guinée pigs, and both the scientists and Eagle group have reason to keep the work secret:


–For example if we should see Jesus Christ, Mohammed or Buddha…just see them and know with certitude that it is them… without talking about discovering aspects of the lives of these religious founders that differ from that which the churches of these religions have made millions of people believe for centuries, including some of us, that is motive enough for keeping project Zigzag secret.***


Things go profoundly wrong and the scientists create their own Frankenstein’s monster and one by one over a ten year period meet horrific and unexplainable deaths.

Somoza handles the story in majority in two time periods, 2005 when the book was written and in the near future, 2015. There is a slow ramp up of anxiety and horror as the story progresses and the conclusion is well handled.

The idea behind this story is interesting and this story could be adapted to screen.

I’d like to treat the question of sexism within this book, brought up on forums by a number of readers, through my understanding of Somoza’s treatment of the main female character , Elisa Robledo. For me there are two separate reasons for unease due to the treatment of the female characters in the book, one arguably legitimate as Elisa over the ten years of the book develops from the exceptional student physicist and young adult not caring about herself:


–Her mother wouldn’t let up about the never ending mess in her room. She arrived at the bus station as the coach started up…she was wearing a t shirt with greying shoulder straps and her torn jeans were frayed at the edges. What’s more her hair was clearly dirty …in the last few months she had been under huge pressure.***


Then she develops into the Physics lecturer and caricature of a woman pandering to men’s lust:


–With her magnificent profile shaped by her cardigan and trousers, she could have passed for a student, maybe even for the hostess of an important ceremony….a porn star holding her first Oscar, or as Rafa whispered to his friends on campus: “a mixture of Einstein and Marilyn Monroe”
But anyone paying attention would have noticed that something wasn’t right: Elisa’s face at the beginning, as the lights came on, was different.***


The change in Elisa as we learn is due to her being influenced and controlled by an immature and flawed outside force and her representation as a mutation towards being an object of sexual desire within this framework seems to me legitimate. Although the reference to a porn star by a person from outside of the main story line here is gratuitous and unnecessary.

The treatment of the scientists on the tropical island, sleeping in non air conditioned rooms so that they, in particular the women,  are naked or next to naked with spy holes in the doors where anyone on the island can see them, is not necessary for the story and panders to a sexism with which I, as a reader, was uncomfortable.
To conclude on this subject there is I believe a thin line to tread  between what is necessary for the development of the storyline (an immature and male manipulator) and cheap sensationalism which the author does not always manage to follow.

First Published in Spanish as “Zigzag” in 2006 by Random House Mondadori.
Translated into French by Marianne Millon as “La Théorie des Cordes” and published by Actes Sud in 2007
Translated into English by Lisa Dillman as “Zigzag” and published by Rayo in 2007
*** My translation

Rosa Montero ‘The heart of the Tartar’


–Urbano layed her on the ground, ripped her clothes off, tugged off his own clothes, parted her thighs and then with his powerful hands parted her humid IMG_1251and throbbing canal as Moses parted the Red Sea. In a word it was a prodigious act.***


Rosa Montero’s 2001 novel read here for Spanish lit month 2017 tells the story of Zarza, a low profile editor and proofreader, 35 years old, she specialised in medieval history and then one day she is woken by a phone call and the words

–I’ve found you***

from this point on her life begins to disintegrate around her. The story of  Zarza’s life and how she has got to where she is is illustrated in a series of meetings and encounters through one night and told in a semi-magical way interwoven with the story of “Le Chevalier à la Rose” (Der Rosenkavelier) from Chretien de Troy which mirrors, but not  completely, her own story, betrayal, darkness, a quest and forgiveness.

Much of the her own story is told or discovered by Zarza, of her strange family and of her twin brother seen through the distant haze of their heroine addiction, The White Lady, and of their descent into madness and depravity to fuel their need as illustrated in the following quote:


–It’s really easy. We just walk into the bank at the street corner, we pull out our guns, me I’ll cover the guard, you point your gun at the cashier, grab the money and then we’re off.
—But you can’t get in with metal objects! They have double doors and detectors.
—No they don’t, they don’t expect anything in that bank, they let anybody in, even if the alarm goes off, well you know….
—But they know us!
—Exactly. All the better. That way they’ll open up for us.
It was the local bank, and it was only the havoc wrought by the White Lady that could explain their outlandish idea to attack their neighbours, their close acquaintances who sooner or later would get their hands on them, but the White Lady has this power: she wipes out her subjects ability to think.***


One night at the worst of her addiction she meets Urbano, a quiet cabinet maker who looks after her and tries to help her to quit her habit. She doesn’t make it, steels from him and leaves. What happened to her for her to exist without living? It finally takes this night for her to relive her past, to meet Urbano and to forgive herself, see the opening quote.

This is an accomplished psychological thriller by one of Spain’s best known contemporary authors, more to come from her this month!

First Published in Spanish as “El corazón del Tartáro” in 2001 by Espasa.
Translated into French by André Gabastou as “Le Territoire des Barbares” and published by Métailie in 2002
*** My translation