A young woman living in the slums of Barcelona quietly observes the aftermath of a famous writer's interventions.
This is Swedish author Wolff's debut novel (after a book of short stories: Many People Die Like You, 2009), but she uses many of the techniques of short fiction in weaving together a quixotic portrait of a Spanish neighborhood. Bookish types should be warned that the story has nothing to do with literary agitator Ellis, the title character here being one of several dogs named after well-known writers. Wolff applies a gritty patina to her somewhat chaotic novel, opening with a quote from the barfly Charles Bukowski and weaving together an unvarnished play about love and transformation that recalls the work of the late Roberto Bolaño (2666, 2008, etc.) The novel's point of view is mostly that of Araceli Villalobos, a young girl living in a rotted-out apartment whom we follow into adulthood. But the book’s touchstone is Alba Cambó, a famous writer of violent short stories. Through these two characters, Wolff depicts the breadth of the human condition. In one passage, Alba hires a Mexican maid who recounts the story of her son’s death on the border. In another, a newly arrived priest quickly meets an untimely end. In a particularly memorable sequence, a desperate Araceli turns to prostitution, only to find that her first client has been hired by Alba. “You may not be very good at selling yourself, Araceli, but you’re even worse at lying,” the john tells her. “That kind of thing grows on you; the attraction has to take its time. You see the person. You start fantasizing about them. Then suddenly one day you’ve got there, and it’s all wonderful.” The novel’s jarring scene changes can be off-putting, and Wolff’s nesting-doll approach to storytelling may lose some readers as well. That said, the author demonstrates a marvelous command of language and creates characters with real depth, lending the book a sensual vibe and an acerbic wit that force its emotional truths to rise above the grunge of its hard-boiled setting.
A poetic, unsentimental drama that offers a meditation on love in all its disparate forms.