It's easy to see why this caustic, cleareyed novel--Montero's English-language debut--was a bestseller in Spain four years after Franco's death in 1975. It offers a woman's view of a society in transition from dictatorship to democracy, and breaks the taboos on talk about abortion, contraception, virginity, gay sex, and orgasms real or faked. Ana, the protagonist, is a single mother and free-lance journalist with a crush on her boss, a smug publishing magnate with a growing empire. Her friend Candela is a single mother and psychologist in love with a married man. Their pal Cecilio is a gay architect in love with a string of adolescent hustlers who break his heart. Gay men and straight women struggle to reinvent themselves in the new post-Franco society. They haven't a clue how to do it, but at least they're alive; they feel--mostly pain--and they have a sense of humor and solidarity. Meanwhile, straight men, whether climbers or dropouts, secure in the leading roles machismo still assigns them, continue to sleepwalk through life. Montero's women are not on the verge of nervous breakdown but in a perpetual slow boil. The narrative glides, diary-like, through a year in the life of Ana and her circle: underpaid work, pub crawls, parties, divorce, cancer, suicide, and anomie have replaced the waves of repression and rebellion that gave shape to the late Franco years. A disillusioned communist, a drunken civil-war anarchist, a Basque separatist destroyed by prison and torture, a band of pathetic belated hippies--all make their appearance. Sociologically fascinating but, as literature, predictable. The isolation of each from each is irremediable, except perhaps through art; and, in the end, Ana gives up on love and decides to write a book instead: the one we've just been reading. A tidy ending for a sometimes daring, sometimes timid account of social upheaval in late 20th-century Europe.