International Writers Magazine: Review Archives
Carmen Martin Gaite
London: Harvill Press
works of fiction can be read in just a few sittings; others take
somewhat longer. The Farewell Angel is not a book to be rushed.
This novel, titled La Reina de las Nieves (The Snow Queen) in its
original Spanish version, has to be enjoyed at leisure to appreciate
the richness of a narrative that uses long, evocative sentences,
which have not lost their impact in translation.
On the day he comes out of prison, Leonardo Villalba finds out that
his parents have died in a car accident and he is now heir to a
considerable fortune. What follows is Leonardos trip through
his memories and his search for himself as he goes through his parents
town house and his fathers papers.
Leonardo is the
child of a detached, neurotic mother and a diffident father and the
main prop of his lonely childhood is the strong presence of his grandmother
in the protective setting of the Quinta Blanca, the old family site
by the sea in Northern Spain. Leonardos fondest memories are of
the fairytales told by his grandmother, particularly Hans Christian
Andersens story of Kay, the boy kidnapped by the Snow Queen, who
chills his heart until Kays childhood sweethearts tears
melt the ice and "an ice splinter falls out of his eye".
It is left to the reader to decide, after learning his story through
Leonardos stream of consciousness, whether he is just a profoundly
damaged individual who appears to have lost all trace of emotional sensitivity
or he is a manic-depressive verging on more serious mental illness but
whichever way, the story explores the scars created by a childs
flawed relationship with his flawed parents and his desperate search
for a mothers love.
When his grandmother dies, she leaves the Quinta Blanca to an absent
Leonardo who only returns for the funeral and insists on selling the
house immediately. A few years later, on his return from being imprisoned
for a drug offence, Leonardo makes a startling discovery and decides
to buy back the ancestral home he was once eager to dispose of.
His journey through his fathers archives and a brief encounter
with a special girl start to awaken his sensitivity, and his final arrival
to the Quinta Blanca complete a circle in his life and put him in touch
with a love he did not know was his.
Strictly speaking, this novel does not have an outstanding plot; if
we examine the story for itself, its elements would not look out of
place in a Latino soap opera. What matters here is Ms Martin Gaites
skilful layering of moods and feelings and her treatment of the characters,
particularly Leonardos, whose plight for love is bound to have
resonance in many quarters. Beautifully written, The Farewell Angel
is a sensitive insight into a young mans quest to recover loves
© Anna-Marie Dover Feb 2008
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