Thomas Melle ‘3000€’


—On Facebook people just post stupid links, they’re supposed to be funny, but Denise just doesn’t get the humour, she thinks about closing her account but B1D32F65-1C09-484D-ACC2-E36CB140C044she knows she’s going to have to look through the thousands of options to find the corresponding function and then get to the end of a procedure where she’d have to answer absurd questions (Do you really? And why do you want to? And so and so will miss you a lot). For the time being she isn’t capable of typing it. Anyway, she doesn’t want to close her account. If the truth be told she keeps wanting to, but she’ll never do it.


This is the story, read for German Lit Month, of two people just trying to get by, Anton who first dropped out of law school and took a job as a taxi driver then went of the rails and spent a whole summer drunk and borrowing money, he’s a fragile person who slips back to alcohol under any pressure. His summer has left him with bank and credit card debt which, for the want of 3000€ will see him slowly sinking into the homeless ranks of people with no access to money. Denise a single mother with a special needs child works the till at a supermarket and like Anton under pressure hits the bottle on a evening, in her attempt to make ends meet she has acted in her first pornographic video, imagining that everyone that passes the till will recognise her and she has been waiting two months now to be paid her 3000€ for the video, feeling the wish to act, to get out of her situation for herself and her child and the immobility characteristic of too much pressure illustrated by the opening quote.

Thomas Melle perfectly captures that moment of fragility where Denise imagines herself looking back at her situation. We’ve all of course done this in our lives, hopefully not from such a difficult situation:


—She tells herself stories about herself, as in a television program switching backwards and onwards between the appalled tone of public service programs  and the flamboyant style of private channels. It’s a story where she herself five or ten years later talks about herself now.
—Yes she says to herself in her head looking at the camera.
—Today I find it difficult myself understanding why I was so depressed back then, at the end of the line…..in retrospect I have to say that my breakdown saved me….I won’t say that I’m happy, but I’m ok and that’s more than I could have hoped for.


Melle brings together these two characters who live at the fringes of society for a short while, but where Denise might just get through, her money eventually arrives, Anton walks away, not wanting to pull her down, as Denise surmises when he doesn’t get in touch:


—He’s just got himself in another situation with no way out, no longer has a cell phone, no credit, no internet access.


3000€, so little and over much at the same time, the price of marginality?

First published in German as ‘3000€’ by Rowohlt in 2014
Translated into French by Julia Sobottke as “3000€” and published by Éditions Métailié in 2017

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Rosa Montero ‘Flesh’


—She straightened up. Round breasts, heavy, slightly drooping, it makes sense, but still pretty. A body shaped by gym sessions. Completely natural. 60 years old. For sixty she wasn’t bad at all. IMG_1293But, of course, from today on she was in her bloody sixties.she reached out a hand and turned the light on, one of the fluorescent lights above her wardrobe, shining down on her whole body, acceptably smooth until now under indirect light, seemed suddenly to slump as if subjected to the forces of 3D gravity…She inspected herself slowly in the mirror without pity. The body is a terrible thing she said to herself out loud, so as to get moving again.***


Soledad is single professional woman coming to terms with her age at sixty, at once strong but insecure, determined but fragile and reaffirming a hunger for life.

In this book which can be translated into English as ‘Flesh’, Montero paints us a complex picture of a woman of sixty who is still maturing, jealous since her married boyfriend left her for his pregnant wife, jealous to the point of hiring a gigolo for an evening at the opera to try to show him she was better without him, to make him jealous, only for her acquaintances to think she was with her son.

She has her life under some sort of control up to this point, but when leaving the the Opera, her Spanish speaking Russian gigolo intercedes in a violent robbery and things get out of hand from here, their relationship becomes deeper than the clear one of a gigolo and his client. As their relationship evolves, the central question becomes one of danger, is Soledad in physical danger from the young Russian man or, as she suspects he is not being honest with her and she begins following him, is he more in danger from the fiery Soledad? This is juxtaposed with the stories of the Cursed Writers which she is considering for the exposition she is preparing for the National Library. As Soledad’s hunger for life and experiences is confirmed, The ever present question of the onwards march of time persists:


—Soledad felt once again an onset of panic, the unending sadness to think that she may never again fall in love, that she may never again lean up against a man’s body, that she may never again feel a man inside her, that her body may never feel the heat of passion for another. The last time you make love, the last time you climb a mountain, the last time you run in the Retiro park. Time ticks on unstoppable, towards the final destruction like a bomb.***


First published in Spanish as ‘La Carne’ by Alfaguara in 2016
Translated into French by Myriam Chirousse as “La Chair” and published by Éditions Métailié in 2017
*** My translation

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

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

Alicia Plante ‘The Murky Waters of the Tigre’


–Garcia Mejuto, he said, the anguish hidden by the sweets he rolled between his teeth and the handkerchief covering the mouthpiece. IMG_1248Note down the spot where you’ll leave the money, thirty thousand pesos. And don’t try to be clever***


Alicia  Plante’s book has two settings, one in Tigre, on the Tigre delta, a town 30 kilometres north of Bueno Aires Where a labyrinth of canals twist and turn between the islands and where the wooden houses built on stilts and much appreciated by the city dwellers, the second setting is in Buenos Aires itself.

This book was read as part of Spanish lit month 2017

There are two stories that will meet up later in the development, an initial story having its roots in the dictatorship, Raúl lived with his mother in Buenos Aires and remembered one day, when he was young, having seen his neighbour the Gallego , who had been a supporter of Franco coming home with a young baby, this was Uruguay in the mid seventies and Raúl’s mother was sure it was a stolen baby:


–She had heard things about this, friends from the parish knew women who had grouped together to look for their missing children, young women, mostly students or workers who weren’t in agreement with the military takeover….And she had also heard that when the young women were pregnant, their new burns were taken away from them and the military kept them for themselves.***


The second story was of a couple who had committed suicide in their wooden house in Tigre. Julia who also owned a house nearby was talking with Cadenas, the local handy man, who doesn’t believe the official version of the man shooting himself and also the blond he was found with:


–A bloke who every chance he gets comes to sleep in his run down house “to make the best of it”, he said, and who turns up one morning on the water bus with his clothes, his wellington boots some books and a type writer…Did you know he was a writer? Anyway what I wanted to say, Julia, was I don’t swallow that story, this bloke who was happy, all of a sudden he shoots himself…and whilst he was about it he bumps of the blond in the high heels***


As these two stories wind towards each other, we learn that there is only one story and it doesn’t reinforce our faith in human nature. Alicia Plante puts together some very good descriptions of people as crimes from the murky past come to the surface and those involved will use their old methods to keep them hidden.

First Published in Spanish as “Una Mancha Más” in 2011 by Adriana Hidalgo S.A.
Translated into French by François Gaudry as “Les Eaux Troubles du Tigre” and published by éditions Métailié in 2016
*** My translation

Antonio Sarabia ‘The Woman of Your Dreams’


–It is said that justice is blind, Hilario Godínez, and it’s for that reason that it is represented blindfolded but, in your country, IMG_1247justice consists first and foremost of avoiding the blindfold and keeping your eyes wide open in order to spot the exact moment when it is best to look away.***


The Mexican author Antonio Sarabia died last month, and this story, The Woman of Your Dreams, is my first encounter with his work.

This book was read as part of Spanish lit month 2017

This story is narrated by an all knowing third person who addresses the main protagonist, Hilario Godínez, throughout the book as illustrated in the opening quote. The story is set in Mexico where the violence of the drug lords is part of everyday life and where no one ventures onto the streets after dark, giving rise to the name of ghost towns, corrected by Godínez through the voice of the narrator:


–Even if you, Hilario Godínez, for whom semantic precision has become a vice, you believe as it happens that “ghost town” wasn’t the appropriate literary form. It would be more accurate to speak of the town as a “random cemetery”, since either way the next day, on open your newspapers, breakfast includes its daily helping of severed heads and dismembered bodies.***


The book relates two parallel stories, firstly there is room for hope and room for love when, as suggested by the title, Hilario has been receiving anonymous letters from a secret admirer, signed the Woman of Your Dreams, over a fifteen year period, letters which he reads with interest and even waits for eagerly, not being able to work out who she could be. She describes herself as invisible:


–She began by continuing the story of her life at university. In contrast to Descartes, she thought but she wasn’t. And she began her professional life still in this sort of non-existence….she remained invisible to all the people that really counted for her.***


In contrast to this storyline Sarabia presents the desperate and hopeless side of Mexico. Hilario, a sports journalist at the local newspaper investigates the disappearance and violent deaths for no known reason, and without ransom demands of a rich kid and then a famous footballer, with any investigation in Mexico possibly concerning drug lords being next to impossible, but as a respected football journalist he was tolerated. He discovers a drug lord that bribes players to lose matches because he has discovered the difference in market value of a first and second division team and he wants to buy the club cheaply.

Of course he is party to the resolution of the murders mystery but how will the Woman Of Your Dreams mystery end?

First Published in Spanish as “No tienes perdon de Dios” in 2017
Translated into French by René Solis as “La Femme de tes Rêves” and published by éditions Métailié in 2017
*** My translation