Specters from the Spanish Civil War and the ghost of tragic love haunt the latest from award-winning Molina (In Her Absence, 2007, etc.).
In the waning days of Franco’s dictatorship, the police seek a young man named Minaya because of his involvement in student protests. He needs to leave Madrid but has nowhere to go. A chance encounter with a scholar studying the Republican poet Jacinto Solana reminds Minaya of his uncle Manuel, who was friends with the writer. He writes to the old man, claiming he is working on a thesis about Solana, and asks if he can pay a visit to conduct research. Manuel invites Minaya to his home in the small town of Mágina. His uncle’s mansion is a shrine to the beautiful Mariana, the young man discovers; every room contains pictures and mementos of the woman who died—shot in the head—on the night of their marriage. Solana was in love with Mariana too, Minaya discovers, and as he searches for the poet’s missing masterpiece, he uncovers a crime. This synopsis in no way captures the experience of following—or rather, trying to follow—the plot. Molina’s narrative traces a dizzyingly elliptical trajectory, moving backwards and forwards in time and shifting perspective so abruptly that it is sometimes exceedingly difficult to determine the antecedent to which a pronoun refers. A lost manuscript, a love triangle, the suggestion of murder: These tantalizing elements create a dynamic tension that the novel’s punishingly slow pace cannot sustain. Molina is a stylish and much-lauded writer, but the artistry that makes works like Sepharad (2003) so rich and compelling in this case overwhelms the story. The author demands a lot from his readers, and many of them may find the rewards not worth the effort.
A wearying, headache-inducing exercise in “literary” mystery.