An old man awaits his solitary death in an abandoned village in Spain’s Pyrenees Mountains: a limpid 1998 novel, its Spanish author’s first to appear in English translation.
Andrés, who narrates (and whose name we don’t learn until the closing pages), lives alone with memories of the decay of his village (Ainielle), whose inhabitants were forced to seek work and live elsewhere when a local mill closed down. We gradually learn of other losses Ainielle and Andrés have suffered: his four-year-old daughter Sara died of respiratory failure; one son, Camilo, never returned from fighting in his country’s civil war; another, the old man’s namesake, had left home a dozen years earlier, over his father’s objections. And Andrés’s wife Sabina, stunned by loneliness and depression, has recently hanged herself. The old man “haunts” his ruined house, accompanied only by a devoted dog, observing the “yellow rain” of falling autumn leaves, surrounded by empty domiciles as moribund as he, where he watches mold and rot advance and frequently hears “the monstrous thud of a wall collapsing.” A fascinating ambiguity develops, as Llamazares deftly suggests contrasting possibilities: that the old man is believed dangerously “mad” by former neighbors reluctant to return to Ainielle to reclaim possessions left behind; or that he actually is a ghost speaking to us from beyond the grave. Things clarify as Andrés’s dead begin “visiting” him, seemingly waiting for him to join them—and in a virtuoso climactic sequence in which previous hauntingly lyrical descriptions of natural change (e.g., the aforementioned “rain”) and of the sensations of aging and decaying culminate in a gorgeous, despairing threnody.
Little plot, and somewhat static, but suffused with a poetic intensity that rivets the reader’s attention to the page: a fine introduction to the work of a very accomplished novelist.