Manuel de Lope, The Wrong Blood

After reading this book, I found myself agreeing with the blurb on the dust jacket, a rare event. In essence, it is about the lives of two women from completely different backgrounds, initially brought together as mistress and servant.  The author constantly interweaves events from the early years of the Spanish Civil War with the situation some sixty years later. The story is set in the Basque country, close to the town of Hondarribia, on the Bidasoa river estuary, not far from the French border and Biarritz. The river and the ocean are constantly in the background, silent witnesses to the passage of time, soldiers, life and death. Two houses overlook the estuary: the first is still lived in by Maria Antonia, formerly the servant but now the mistress; the other belongs to the doctor, a Quixotic figure who has played a crucial role in the women’s lives and is the only surviving witness to the events that took place in the house opposite.  In her old age Maria Antonia draws comfort from repetitive, humdrum acts, but this routine is interrupted by the arrival of Manuel Goitia, her late mistress’s grandson, who decides to spend a few weeks at the house studying for his notarial exams. His presence is a catalyst that threatens to open doors which have been tightly locked for years. The prosody of the original language has been retained in John Cullen’s translation, which captures the mesmerising quality of the author’s descriptions of nature, the bluntness with which he recounts brute violence, and the shattering pain of grief.  All this, and the exquisite exploration of memory and old age make this a book that stays with you, inviting you to read it again.

Manuel de Lope, The Wrong Blood, trans. John Cullen, Chatto & Windus, 2010

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