Swedish writer Lina Wolff has both lived and worked in Italy and Spain, experience she has put to use in her first novel, Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs [High Wycombe: & Other Stories, 2016]. An eye-catching title is never a disadvantage and this one does have its origin in the text but you would never guess it until you come across the reference. Wolff’s novel is cleverly constructed and conspicuously well written; aided in the English version by the excellent translation by Frank Perry.
The novel’s narrator, Araceli, is a young Catalan girl, living in Barcelona, but the author uses several devices to expand the number of voices. Other protagonists talk to her and, at one point, there is a short story ‘written’ by Alba Cambó, an eccentric writer around whom the narrative circles. Araceli has read several of Alba Cambó’s short stories in the fictional magazine Semejanzas (Similarities) and, as the book begins, she is living with her mother in the apartment above the one shared by Cambó and her black companion, Blosom. However, Alba persuades her mother to let Blosom move upstairs to make space for Alba’s latest conquest, Valentino. Valentino makes himself useful including driving Araceli to school, which is how the book opens.
‘It was Friday two weeks ago,’ Valentino told me on one of the days he drove me to school. ‘Alba Cambó and I met up at ten that morning and went for a spin in the car. They were playing Vivaldi on the radio. I had pushed the top back and it was a lovely day, the kind of day when the air smells of figs, salt water and sweet exhaust fumes. Alba was sitting in the same place as you are now, her head against the neck-rest, looking up at the roofs as we drove through the streets and avenues, I recognised the music they were playing on the radio and hummed along to it while driving. I could never make love to Vivaldi, Alba said at that point. Vivaldi’s beautiful, don’t you think, I said. That’s why, she said. Imagine making love to the Gloria. Only a saint can do that, and saints aren’t supposed to make love.
Alba has other lovers, such as Ilich and Rodrigo Auscias, whose paths cross and the latter relates his experiences to Araceli in an extended section that takes him a whole night. It is in this passage that we realise where the book’s title comes from. Interwoven with the accounts of others, Araceli tells her own story. This makes the book a series of episodes with an interlinking narrative and the whole hangs together in a very satisfying and highly readable text.
It would be hard to say more without revealing the subtle plot of the novel, so suffice to say that this last book of my reading year merits an 8.5 out of 10 rating and encourages me to look forward to Wolff’s next novel, due out in Sweden in 2016, De polyglotta älskarna, which Frank Perry might translate as The Polyglot Lovers. I hope he is working on it already.