I was thrilled to receive an advance review copy of this novel because Spanish author David Trueba is one of my favorite contemporary storytellers. I had been patiently awaiting another novel from Trueba since his brilliant ‘Learning To Lose’ (the only other novel available in English translation via Other Press) so when word came that his latest novel ‘Blitz’ would soon be published in English translation, I couldn’t wait to read it. Thanks to the kind folks at Other Press, I didn’t have to wait long.
Trueba has a natural gift for storytelling. Not only through his novels but through his films. He is also a well respected screenwriter and director in his native Spain and his gift for storytelling is clearly evident in the amazing ‘Madrid 1987’ and the more recent ‘Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed’. He brings the same gifts to his fiction and with ‘Blitz’ he again hits the bullseye.
The story is set in the recent past, during Spain’s near crippling economic crisis. Thirty year old landscape architect Beto is in Munich with his girlfriend to attend a landscape planning competition when he receives a text message that wasn’t meant for him from his girlfriend. It’s meant for her ex-boyfriend, who she planned on going back to and suddenly breaks off her relationship with the stunned Beto. Stunned by the announcement, Beto is left bewildered, lost and naturally it puts a crimp in his plans and a damper on the entire trip, leading to an unfortunate event which may or may not have effected the judge’s decision about his work. When it comes time to leave Munich for Madrid, he decides not to return with his now ex-girlfriend and spends time alone, wandering around the snowy German city without plans or direction.
When the competition’s translator Helga discovers him alone and weeping on the street, she invites him to stay with her at her apartment until he can rebook his flight home. Helga is a much older woman, thirty-two years his senior. When the two return to her apartment and converse over drinks, Beto finds himself curiously attracted to her. One thing leads to another and soon the two have a sexual encounter which only opens the door to more problems for the depressed and confused Beto.
The bulk of this short novel is the dynamic between Beto and the much older Helga and how they learn to come to grips with their encounter. Helga had been divorced for fifteen years and is not looking for anything ‘serious’. Beto, meanwhile, struggles with a whole range of emotions — guilt, lust, disgust, and confusion. While he does not immediately bolt after the encounter, he certainly doesn’t want to stick around for the encounter’s awkward aftermath. However, despite him obsessing on his ex, he can’t stop thinking about Helga either.
It’s a cross generational encounter which lays naked the mind of a young man with his first sexual encounter with a much older woman. The reader is privy to his every thought, every feeling as the sexual encounter takes place. Beto’s thoughts are a study of the sometimes narcissistic tendencies men have and the assumptions they make regarding women in general but with older women in particular. Whatever occurred between them that night, a certain intimacy is developed, one which the young Beto can’t shake despite his bitterness towards his ex leaving him.
Two days later, Beto returns to Spain and tries to get his life in order and throughout all his efforts to forget his ex, his jealousy over her new lover, Helga lingers, is always present in some way.
Simultaneously tragic and comical, Trueba crafts a wonderful story about intimacy — or lack thereof — in contemporary times and how people are unwilling to let their guard down, to expose themselves fully and surrender to it, no matter who it’s with. The other characters who appear throughout the story echo Beto’s unwillingness to embrace intimacy and coupled with the uncertain times in contemporary Spain, it only enhances the disillusion of this younger generation trying to come to grips with trying times.
At it’s heart, ‘Blitz’ is a story about intimacy the mysteries of sexual desire. An offbeat ‘love story’ if there ever was one and Trueba is a writer that can easily craft one, all the while aiming for the heart.
Translated by John Cullen