An academic endures a series of life-altering tragedies in a carefully observed novel from Spanish scribe Gracia Armendáriz (Diario del hombre pálido, 2015, etc.).
The suffering is never-ending for art professor Gabriel Ariz. First his daughter, Laura, dies in a car accident. Then his wife, Ana, leaves him, but not before convincing herself she's seen Laura’s ghost. Finally, Gabriel is diagnosed with end-stage renal disease and learns he will need a new kidney. Memories of Gabriel’s old life as a professor and art critic are interspersed with scenes of his new existence, from grueling dialysis treatments to a fraught interaction with Ana, who wants to sell the family home, where Gabriel still lives. Those looking for an accessible, fast-moving plot need look elsewhere. Gracia Armendáriz’s focus is on his characters’ interior lives. At various points, he explores the minds of not only Gabriel, but also Gabriel’s late daughter; the self-interested family cat, Polanski; and even a garden mole who unwittingly helps Gabriel find Laura’s diary, which she buried outside before she died. The attention to detail here is thorough, sometimes to a fault. A one-paragraph description of Gabriel’s activities around the house goes on for six pages, digressing into a remembrance of the cocktail party he attended after giving his final university lecture (“a few words in praise of the spirit of the 20th-century avant-garde movements, followed by a eulogy on knowledge as the only way to attain personal autonomy”). Yet once Gabriel begins dialysis, this same thoroughness has a visceral effect, as both the monotony of the procedure and its painful toll become harrowingly real.
Gracia Armendáriz’s prose is exhaustive and often exhausting, but patient readers will find rewards in this chronicle of one man’s seemingly perpetual suffering.