One review which you will rarely read (but you will now) is the one where the reviewer gives up on the book. Some book clubs have a protocol whereby a member can give up on the set book provided he/she provides a reason. It’s actually a difficult but common problem of reading. Do you carry on if you’re not enjoying the book and if so for how long? The answer lies in the length. This novel is over 600 pages long and 28% into it according to my Kindle very little has happened. It is set in 1935 and a Spanish architect Ignacio Abel has left his family in Madrid to see his lover Judith in the States. He is on a train out of New York and first 170 pages recalls his past marriage, meeting Judith and life as an architect. The writing is detailed and dense. It is frankly, in the absence of any narrational drive, dull.
I happened to be speaking to an old friend and reading enthusiast about highly rated European novels and mentioned a Turkish writer Orhan Pomuk whose novels are similarly hard going. My friend said he had tried three and given up each of them. He referred too to a poor translation. This novel is translated into American with words like gray and color. He gave me the confidence to jump.
I struggled for a chapter or so but, after a lengthy description of a model he created for his two children and the thought that I had another 400 plus pages to go, gave up. I can recognise Molina can write and the references and context to the Spanish civil war are of some interest. I have read Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms at school finding it long-winded, Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia which I preferred and more recently C. J Sansom’s excellent Winter in Madrid and was curious to read a Spanish novel on the dress rehearsal for the Second World War. I did learn more about the poet Lorca killed by Falangists but I was forever struggling. Besides as the anti-hero was in the United States I doubted if the novel would cover the area that interested me most, the imploding of the Republicans which resulted in the mainstream army turning on the ideological left of the international brigade.
I turned to The Lady from Zagreb , a novel by Philip Kerr featuring his detective Bernie Gunther the good German in the moral sewer of Nazi Germany. No problem with any narration here, more with a style aping Raymond Chandler. In a matter of days I had covered 25%, I was engaged and learned quite a bit about Nazi high command and Berlin in 1942.
I do not regret my decision though if it was a book club I would maybe have finished it and might have appreciated it more in discussion.