Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"There are things that very few portraits of women allow the viewer to discern"

The Wrong Blood, by Manuel de Lope, is set in Basque country during the Spanish Civil War and is ostensibly the tale of two women...

A rape victim:
In church, the priests taught the children such behavior, telling them that they had to be obedient, even in time of war, even though they could escape and disappear on the mountain with the cows after setting fire to the hayloft, and then, for decades to come, the house that had sheltered Etxarris's Bar would be nothing but a burnt patch, a few charred beams on ash-covered ground, and nobody except a very few people would know that María Antonia Etxarri had set the house on fire to save herself from being raped, but instead of doing that, remembering other reasons and other rains, María Antonia obediently mounted the stairs to the room, doing as she had been told, fearing only the barrage of blows she would get from her stepfather should peace ever come.

And a bride:
The bride smiled in a lost paradise of tulle and lace and orange blossoms. The photograph showed neither how much weeping she was to do nor how little she had wept until then, nor was there any visible sign of the two tears of emotion she had shed during the ceremony or of the sighs she would utter that same night, but there are things that very few portraits of women allow the viewer to discern.

I had a hard time settling into this book. The story jumps from one perspective to another, back in time, then forward to our present, and sometimes, as in María Antonia's burning the house down, into a what if. (Not that I have trouble with that sort of thing usually.) But I am glad I stuck with it.

I can't claim to have ever experienced anything near what these women went through, but something about the telling simply didn't ring true — too writerly, too male.

The novel for me is more effective with the stories of the men — the officer, the grandson, the neighbouring doctor — even while telling us so much less about them. These characters are told, without being explained, and I think they are richer for it.

For all this, the novel is lyrical and romantic and engrossing. Though I very early on had guessed what would be "the big reveal," I was compelled to see how it would be unveiled.

Favourite sentence: "There are men who subvert order because they carry a deep-seated, centrifugal inertia that destroys the space as well as the feelings around them." (Although, I'm not sure I agree.)

See this review.
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