cover image The Farewell Angel

The Farewell Angel

Carmen Martin Gaite, Carmen Martin Gaite. Harvill Press, $25 (336pp) ISBN 978-1-86046-357-0

Blurring the boundaries between real life and a dream, this richly imagined, meticulously crafted tale by Spanish novelist Gaite (Variable Cloud) borrows from a fairy tale to redeem a young man's past. Moments after his release from prison in the 1970s (he was arrested for involvement in a ""shady deal""), Leonardo Villalba, a restlessly ruminative but despondent soul, learns of the death of his financier father and icily distant mother in an automobile accident. He arrives home in Madrid like the prodigal son and, unable to grieve, embarks on a vertiginous journey to reclaim his emotions. Revisiting Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, which his grandmother often read to him as a child, Leonardo imagines himself as Kay, the fabled young boy who grows estranged from his best friend, Gerda, after a splinter of glass enters his eye and turns his heart cold. Consumed by his own riddle of identity and committed to piecing together a plausible narrative of his life, Leonardo conjures the specters of his father and his beloved grandmother, whose visitations turn his attention to the Quinta Blanca, his grandmother's large seaside home where he spent much of his childhood. Startled by his failure to remember that he sold the Quinta Blanca to a reclusive writer soon after inheriting it from his grandmother, the somnambulant Leonardo resolves to buy it back. While studying correspondence stored in his father's safe, he discovers a likeness between the serendipitously procured essays of Casilda Iriarte, the Quinta Blanca's current owner, and letters from the mysterious ""Sila."" Beyond confirming his suspicion that the ""lady of the Quinta Blanca"" and Sila are one, a Christmas visit to the Quinta Blanca dislodges Leonardo's splinter of glass, reveals the secret between his father and the lady of the Quinta Blanca and renders Leonardo twice orphaned. By the sheer force of her prose in this liquid translation, Gaite delivers an engrossing tale inhabited by deeply human characters and passionate landscapes. The novel glistens with intelligence and heart. (July) FYI: The Farewell Angel was awarded the Spanish National Prize for Literature in 1994.