lunes, 12 de agosto de 2013

Las interioridades (Interiors) - Félix J. Palma

This is a short story collection bordering on magical realism, written by the Spanish author Félix J. Palma (here is his official page in Spanish). Unfortunately, this volume is only available in Spanish. And even here I could only find it in libraries. Although he has won a truckload of awards in Spain, I knew nothing whatsoever about him until his most recent novel, The Map of the Sky, was translated into English. I then read the first volume of his Victorian Trilogy, The Map of Time, and fell in love. And now I'm on a quest to read his backlist.

Las interioridades would roughly translate to Interiors, and it is the title of the first of six short stories or tales which incorporate fantastic elements in otherwise common lives. Palma's style is a little bit flowery, but I think his word choices are key to making this collection stand out. He often comes up with very unusual images and metaphors. I'm very picky about metaphors and similes since they are so often misused and make no sense, but these are perfect. 

The stories are not only well-written, but also intriguing and entertaining. I was glued to the book. As in every collection, some stories are better than others, but the good ones are so good they compensate the others. In short, I'm not disappointed by this early volume, but I expect a more depurated style in his later work, more similar to the Victorian Trilogy.

Because it is such a short collection, I'm going to go a little bit more in-depth with each story and there will be spoilers. I have tried to translate the titles, so bear with me.

Las interioridades (Interiors) (5/5)
A man discovers there is a parallel life inside wardrobes, where friendships are born and destroyed and where marriages show their dark underbelly. 
I know the summary isn't very compelling, but this is my favorite story of the bunch. In an extended metaphor, Palma equates wardrobe and sex. An unlikely friendship is quickly formed between the two lovers of a cheating wife (Moncada and the narrator) when they start changing impressions about the different wardrobes around the city. This friendship flourishes only in the narrow spaces in the wardrobes, in the quiet pauses forced by the husbands of the different women, until Moncada talks about the one wardrobe where the narrator can't enter - his own. I know it sounds confusing, but that is just my fault.
Tras su confesión, Moncada, reclinado hacia atrás, me miraba sin comprender, con el único ojo que podía, el derecho. En el otro tenía clavado un rey negro que le dificultaba la visión. Todo había sucedido muy rápido para los dos. Esperé a que la trabajosa respiración se le extinguiera definitivamente sin saber qué decir.
[After his confession, Moncada, lent back, looked at me without understanding, with the only eye he had, the right one. In the other one there was a black king impeding his vision. Everything had happened too quickly, for both of us. I waited until his wheezing extinguished completely, not knowing what to say.]

Rosas contra el viento (Roses Against the Wind) (5/5)
A grey man with a grey office work lives his boring day-to-day until his grandfather, who loves train miniatures and hates rats, gifts him a miniature man modeled after himself. The moment this wooden man is put inside a miniature train, our grey narrator discovers he can travel with his eyes closed. From that moment, his life changes - he knows love and loss, and his family secrets transform into a full-blown tragedy.

La fauna afectiva (The Affective Fauna) (2/5)
This is my least favorite one, because it has an agenda and it shows. Palma starts this story with a brief quote of an ecological report about climate change and the danger it poses to animals and humans. It seems the story was written half-heartedly.
The story deals with the unrequited love story of our narrator and a beautiful pet shop owner. The narrator ends up with a zoo in his progress to confessing his love, when an ecologist-adventurer robs him of his opportunity. In the meanwhile, Palma interweaves bits of information about the pets' wild lifestyle to make you think about the effect climate change would have for them. This would be great if the story wasn't so dull, but it is. You could skip it.

En el tejado, el violinista (On the Roof, the Fiddler) (4/5)
© Raúl Gómez
This is a classic gangster story with a twist. A ragged fiddler and a kid form a friendship while the fiddler waits for his opportunity to make his dream come true, which is playing for Broadway tycoon and marrying his Evelyn. However, things are not as simple as they seem to the kid, and soon the tycoon appears dead.

La nave de los albatros (Vessel with Albatrosses) (5/5)
An old sailor installs himself ashore after an eerie encounter with a ghost ship, but his family hates him because his sternness. Palma first presents this sailor through the eyes of his only daughter, Nuria. The sailor seems to be brutal and unpredictable and she feels her freedom greatly reduced. Then we are told the true story of the sailor and the ghost ship, until we realize he is just a blunt man trying to protect his daughter from an unknown danger. I could easily foresee the tragic ending, and yet I was moved by it. I loved this story.

El hombre tras la cortina (The Man Behind the Curtain) (3/5)
A family rents a flat that comes with a man behind the dining room curtain. Their lives will be always changed by his presence, when each of the family members creates their own story regarding this mysterious man. Death, infidelity and lonliness are all embodied in the man beehind the curtain. A very intelligent story, but not as good as some of the others. I think I would have liked it more if it hadn't been the closing one.

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