You don’t normally think that you would be in the position where you have really high expectations from the next book you read from a publisher, especially when it’s the second book they are publishing. That is however how I have been feeling with the latest Peirene Press release ‘Stone in a Landslide’ by Maria Barbal. It is really all the fault of their first book ‘Beside The Sea’, which I think is one of the best books that I have read in recent years, which I am still thinking about and recommending to anyone and everyone. So no pressure then for this book as I sat down to read it.
When reading ‘Stone in a Landslide’ I found it to have a rather reflective and nostalgic feel to it, despite the fact that I have never lived in Spain, though I have been quite a few times. I think this is all down to our narrator Conxa. It doesn’t give anything away to say that Conxa tells us her story aged 80 and looking back at her life which has not been one of the easiest. But then it possibly wouldn’t be so interesting would it? From her childhood, moving to her aunt Tia and Oncle’s house to be a worker and almost adoptive daughter, through a civil war that rages through the country even to the Pyrenees where she lives and onto life for an older lady in a world that just keeps modernising. We see her loves, her loses, her joys and her heartaches.
I don’t really know if any more should be said as I could give the whole plot away which would never do. Instead I will do as Kirsty at Other Stories did and quote Peirene’s publisher Meike Ziervogel. ‘I fell in love with Conxa’s narrative voice, its stoic calmness and the complete lack of anger and bitterness. It is a timeless voice, down to earth and full of human contradictory nuances. It’s the expression of someone who searches for understanding in a changing world but senses that ultimately there may be no such thing.’ I doubt anyone trying to write thoughts on this book could put it any better.
I can say more on the author, who is understandably one of Spain’s most regarded writers. Barbal is a wonderful writer, in her hands as a reader you are gently drawn through a lifetime of a woman. It’s a full life and yet despite the shortness of the book you never feel you are rushed. In fact often you are asked to stop a while and take in the smallest of scenes from a village dance to a family meal or joining women gossiping in the streets, all incredibly detailed and yet understated. Yet all of them breathe Conxa’s life and indeed the Spanish life into wherever you are reading the book. Does that sound a little loopy? It also has a rhythm that keeps you reading until whoops the book is finished. This could of course be the translation which has been done meticulously; though I have a feeling it’s quite probably a combination of the two.
‘Stone in a Landslide’ has been a best seller around the whole of Europe since its initial release in 1985 and now having read the book I can see why, it’s a beautiful simplistic and touching book that leaves you feeling reflective, yet in a hopeful way. It’s also a book that makes me even more excited about what might be coming next from Peirene Press. 8/10
Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
Beside The Sea – Veronique Olmi (you must, must read this book!)
It is books like this, and indeed ‘Beside The Sea’, that leave me wondering just how many more wonderful European novels and novella’s we are missing out on here in Britain, and indeed all over the world? What possibly unknown European gems have you found that I (and many others) should be seeking out?