Spanish author Andres Barba’s English language debut, brought to you by the amazing folks at Hispabooks Publishing (who are bringing previously untranslated contemporary Spanish authors for the English speaking reader — something I’ve been waiting for for some time now). In his native Spain, Barba is the author of about 12 books of literary fiction, non-fiction, photography, art and children’s books. In 2010 Granta included him in their Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists.
It’s easy to see why after reading this collection of four novellas: Fatherhood, Guile, Fidelity, and Shopping. Each of the four novellas are connected thematically, each exploring various issues of human nature: death, love, sex, a fascination for the other, desire, fear, fatherhood and the one theme that links all of these stories: the sudden understanding of another person’s life. In Fatherhood, we follow a struggling musician who gets his girlfriend pregnant however his girlfriend doesn’t want him in her life and has since found someone else. However the musician does his best to be a father to his son but finds it isn’t as easy as he thought it would be. Guile follows a young woman who is watching her mother slowly disintegrate, both physically and mentally. She hires a young Colombian woman to act as caretaker and becomes slowly fascinated with her. Meanwhile, as her mother’s condition deteriorates, the young woman’s somewhat dysfunctional family dynamic only seems to complicate matters more. Fidelity is about a young woman who — while out being a volunteer for Doctors Without Borders — discovers her father out with another woman. She follows her father’s mistress and becomes fascinated with her (one could even say even a hint of sexual attraction) trying to learn about who this woman is and what it was about her that appealed to her father. Meanwhile, she’s having relationship problems of her own with her hapless boyfriend who can’t seem to get it together. As she tries to come to grips with the idea of her father being unfaithful, she begins to see her parents’ love life in a whole new way. Finally, Shopping, which follows a mother and daughter through one day of Christmas shopping as a light snow falls over Madrid and the complicated dynamic between them as they spend the day together.
Each of these stories are extremely well written and Barba has the unique talent of getting into his character’s heads in a way not seen by many novelists: complex and extremely realistic, insightful. His prose style is absolutely outstanding, literary without being Literary, often with unique metaphors which precisely pinpoint the emotion or feeling conveyed. An immense talent and well deserving of being included in Granta’s list. Now it’s only a matter of time to see whether or not the English speaking world will take to him as the Spanish speaking world already has. He will, in my view, without a doubt. A truly talented writer who is ready to find a worldwide audience.