Shortcuts: Tangerine/ Death in Spring

At the moment I am wrestling with Rachel Cusk’s ‘Transit’ trilogy of books and will have a review for you shortly. In the meantime, here are some brief snapshots of other books I’ve recently read…

‘Tangerine’ – Christine Mangan

With Patricia Highsmith, Alfred Hitchcock, Donna Tartt and Gillian Flynn invoked on the cover I so wanted to love this book.

Alice lives in Tangiers with7F61R63Qth her new husband, John. One day when Lucy, a friend from Lucy’s college days arrives unannounced, bringing with her the memories of a terrible tragedy and stirring up hidden emotions and shunned realities. Then one day, John disappears and the past and present begin to unravel…

And yet it never felt quite exciting, enticing enough to pull me into what should have been a pulsating, sticky psychodrama wrapped in a sharp and dangerous mystery. Maybe the fault lies in the structure of the book, in that it utilises the ‘he said/ she said’ (or, rather, ‘she said/ she said’) style so perfectly orchestrated by Gillian Flynn in ‘Gone Girl’. As we know, Flynn was able to get around the restrictions of this structure by reorganising narrative flow: hence, the first part of the novel begins with the revelation of the ‘crime’ and works backwards in time to the start of the plot. Then we begin a further journey from the ‘crime’ and its aftermath. In Mangan’s book the narrative flow is a straight A-to-B-to-C which meant that revelations clearly intended to surprise were simply reiterations of what is going though the reader’s mind.

In short: I have never been a connoisseur of crime fiction, so when I am able to deduce the murderer or plot twist I presume that what I am reading can’t be that good. Unfortunately, ‘Tangerine’ is one of those novels.

‘Death in Spring’ – Merce Rodoreda 

Merce Rodoreda is viewed as one of the foremost Catalan novelists of the twentieth century, with ‘Death in Spring’ published posthumously (1986) and probably one of her darkest books: A teenage boy comes of age in a remote Catalan village which perches precariouslyguernica-refugees-photo-e-1024x979 above a surging underground river, beneath the mountaintop house of ‘Senyor’ and populated with shadows, myths and the faceless ones..

‘Death in Spring’ is very European in style, in that it uses the ties which bind the people to the land, folklore and the everyday to conjure up something more than a sum of its parts. Rather like the cinema of the Eastern Block of the 1960s and 1970s, which commented on and subverted the ruling ideologies – be they political or religious (see ‘Valerie and her Week of Wonders’ for starters) – here Rodereda conjures up the fear and dread which came with the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship:

‘Doors were closed, windows open, the pebbles on the pavement beneath my feet hot. I felt someone staring at me from behind a window. It caused me more anguish than the anguish caused by the sleeping people.’

We find the town haunted by the ‘faceless’ men: men who have taken part on the yearly clearing of the river which runs beneath: through the torrents they move to remove the rocks which build up and put the village at risk from flood. Sometimes they come back, sometimes they return damaged, faceless, left to roam the streets, like soldiers returning from war…

‘The faceless men would be sweeping the streets, drawing on the last bits of straggling darkness, and they frightened her’

And Rodoreda comes at the story with wit and invention, often mixing in imagery which slaps the face of the jaded reader:

‘Everything looked burnt: grass, ivy, wisteria. Courtyards were full of dead bees. Grey, white-bellied snakes from Pedres Baixes slithered into corners. They hid wherever they could, as a nursing mother realized one morning when she found one attached to each breast.’

A slender novel, ‘Death in Spring’ is a dark and sinister fairytale from a land not too long ago and never far away…

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