Today, two more from my #20booksofsummer23 for #WITMonth too, both novels written in Spanish for you – both by South American authors – one from Argentina, the other from Uruguay; I loved one, and nearly DNF’d the other!
A Little Luck by Claudia Pineiro
Translated by Frances Riddle
I discovered Argentinian author Claudia Piñeiro last year with her fifth novel, Betty Boo, reprinted by Bitter Lemon Press. First published in 2011 and translated in 2016, Betty Boo is a high suspense crime novel, with a woman journalist embedded in the country club where a notorious industrialist was murdered, enabling her to keep ahead of the investigation. I enjoyed it very much. Piñeiro went on to be shortlisted for the International Booker Prize last year for her third novel Elena Knows, first published in translation by Charco in 2021. Now we have the sparkling new translation of her sixth novel, originally published in Argentina in 2013. Although she tends to be categorised as a crime novelist, there’s that South American literary sensibility that pervades her writing.
In A Little Luck, there is no murder, but there is a death in a tragic accident, and the novel investigates the consequences for those involved. It happened in a Buenos Aires suburb twenty years ago and now Mary Lohan finally has to revisit her hometown. She could have said no, especially after her partner Robert died, but couldn’t quite do it. Mary is a Spanish teacher in Boston, working for a prestigious institute that licences its methods to schools around the world, to help get their students into the best colleges and courses, and she has been asked to audit her old school, St Peter’s as they have applied to join the scheme. She is hopeful that no-one will recognise her as Marilé as she used to be known; most of the staff are newer and she’s no longer blonde, she’s lost weight, wears coloured contacts, and her voice has an accent and a hoarseness that it didn’t before… but returning to the Temperley suburb does worry her a lot.
The audit starts well, the head teacher is very helpful although she has little conversation with him. Part of the process is to interview the teachers, she’s working hard, and then the history teacher arrives, and one of those jaw-dropping moments occurs. I can’t say more for fear of spoiling things, I’m sorry, but it prompts Mary to recount her story fully for us, to tell us what happened, about her former life, about how an act of kindness saved her after she ran away from it.
The structure of the novel is interesting, as interspersed in between the initial chapters are fragments starting to tell the story of the tragedy. Each expands on the previous one with a few extra details, as if the narrator wants to tell their story but isn’t ready to do it yet. Pineiro uses this device to build suspense successfully. I was totally invested in Mary’s story, we get taken through all the emotions and we just hope that her journey home will give her the catharsis that she needs to reboot her life. This novel is both clever and beautifully written, and I can’t wait to read more by Claudia Piñeiro.
Source: Review copy – thank you! Charco Press, flapped paperback, 208 pages.
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The Last Resort by Carmen Posadas
Translated by Kristina Cordero
This novel, published in Spanish in 1996 and in English translation in 2005, by Uruguayan author Posadas should have been a fun read, especially given that the blurb mentions Agatha Christie. It is set primarily in Morroco at a posh spa hotel in the desert which boded well…
Rafael Molinet, a middle-aged Spaniard who lives in London, is at a loss when his mother dies. He resolves to exit the world too, and picks L’Hirondelle d’Or (The Golden Swallow), a luxurious desert spa in Morocco which, being broke, he can’t really afford, as the venue to take his sleeping pills.
But, he hadn’t factored in his niece Fernanda, whom he meets for lunch at Drones, (a Wodehousian London club/restaurant) before leaving for Morocco. She is a huge gossip, and pointing out a couple who had hoped to go unnoticed dining there too, begins to tell him a salacious tale of mystery and intrigue over the death of the woman’s late lover, who officially choked on an almond, others say it was murder by either his wife who turned up just as he was dying, or was it his lover who wanted to end things?
Even at this early stage, I began to flag, as Fernanda’s story was so drawn out, so many digressions. Eventually, Rafael leaves for Morocco and has a quiet time at the spa, but amazingly, one of the other guests is the widow of the dead man Fernanda told him about. Then more guests with connections arrive, and Rafael is distracted from his original mission! Lengthy faxes from Fernanda intrigue further.
BUT NOTHING HAPPENS! Until page 208 of 281. I’d nearly given up in utter boredom, but finally there was something worth reading to the end for, if only to see the squabbling rich folk get their come-uppance. There’s also a running joke by one of the guests calling Rafael, Mr Moulinex, which tired quickly.
This novel was too much of a shaggy dog story for me, taking so long to reach its climax. I didn’t really get any Christie references at all either. Apparently Posadas won Spain’s top literary prize for her previous novel Little Indiscretions, which does sound more Christiesque, and if I encounter a copy I might give it a go, but I wouldn’t recommend this one if you like your mysteries taut.
Source: Own copy Alma Books, paperback, 281 pages.
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