Posts Tagged ‘Rupert Thomson’

‘Barcelona Dreaming’ by Rupert Thomson – Day and Night Life in Barcelona

 

‘Barcelona Dreaming’, stories, by Rupert Thomson (2021) – 215 pages

 

Rupert Thomson lived in Barcelona, Spain, from 2004 to 2010. Thomson created the first draft of these three stories while still living in Barcelona.

Barcelona is a seaport on the Mediterranean in northern Spain. It is in a region near the Pyrenees called Catalonia and they speak their own language Catalan. It is the fifth largest city in the European Union with over five and a half million people, and in many ways it resembles the towns and cities along the southern coast of France and the French Riviera more than the rest of Spain.

The three stories are “The Giant of Sarria”, “The King of Castelldefels”, and The Carpenter of Montjuic”. I suppose Sarria, Castelldefels, and Montjuic are place names in or near Barcelona.

The stories are all written in the first person. Each is about 70 pages long, and I would consider them long stories rather than novellas. All of the stories center around somewhat odd offbeat relationships between men and women.

In the first story, a woman in her forties tells of her love affair with a young guy in his early twenties from Morocco. She lives in a fashionable section of Barcelona; he lives in a slum where mostly illegal immigrants live. While one of her friends try to dissuade her, she continues the affair.

I felt the part of me that might have questioned what I was doing fly off into the night, fast as a flung stone.”

In the second story, it’s the other way around. A 65 year-old man tells of his affair with a Brazilian woman in her thirties who has a 10 year-old son.

The third story is not about an affair. A man becomes friends with another guy who lives in his apartment building who intrigues him.

What if in a roundabout, almost allegorical way he was trying to warn me about himself? At first glance, he might seem open and accessible, someone you could talk to, but he was capable of unexpected and terrifying transformations.”

These stories share a distinctive enigmatic exotic atmosphere which I suppose is Barcelona. That some of the same peripheral characters float through the three stories somewhat loosely ties them together. Notice that on the cover above are the words “a novel”. Hardly.

These stories capture the lives of these diverse characters in this city of Barcelona without trying to instruct us with a moral or any other lesson. I’m too old to learn anything so I actually prefer fiction that doesn’t try to teach me lessons.

 

Grade:    A-

 

 

‘Katherine Carlyle’ by Rupert Thomson – From Frozen Embryo to Frozen Arctic

 

‘Katherine Carlyle’ by Rupert Thomson    (2014) – 293 pages

 

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‘Katherine Carlyle’ is a cold crystalline mysterious novel. The first sentence sets it in motion. “I was made in a small square dish.” Yes, Katherine was conceived in a dish in London, and then her embryo was frozen for eight years. We are never told how she found out about her beginnings. I suppose none of the real stories of our actual physical conceptions are all that uplifting.

Now Katherine is nineteen years old and living in Rome. Her mother has died of cancer, and her father is busy traveling to world trouble spots as a journalist. Sitting in a restaurant in Rome, Katherine overhears a conversation among strangers about a certain Klaus Frings in Berlin. She takes this talk as a sign to act and she immediately goes off to Berlin to find and meet Klaus Frings.

“Every occasion – every moment trembles with a sense of opportunity. I have no idea where the next communication will come from, but I know one will come – perhaps even from the unwholesome, insidious man who is still standing beside me.”

We accompany Katherine to Berlin and Russia where she meets a series of men and women she has never encountered before. Each person she meets presents a new possibility but also perhaps a new menace. Except for Katherine and her father and her deceased mother, all of the characters in the novel are somewhat shadowy figures having no past or future in Katherine’s life. ‘Katherine Carlyle’ is a story of enchantment rather than of emotional depth or intensity. When there is a danger of becoming too closely involved with someone, Katherine leaves.

“These days, though, when I leave a room, I often have the sense that I might not return. Steps can’t always be retraced; the path through the forest closes behind me as though it was never there.”

What makes ‘Katherine Carlyle’ special is the cleanness, the icy elegance, of the prose. I didn’t buy for one minute the unstated but implied idea that Katherine’s start as a frozen embryo shaped her life and her later Arctic travels, but still I was entranced by the physical scenes and situations.

“I’m in my mother’s Alfa Romeo, racing up the slip road that leads off the autostrada. Bright sunlight flashes through the inside of the car like something splintering. A petrol station, the grating of cicadas. My mother’s eyes behind dark glasses. Blue-gray irises, black lashes. I know what she wants me to say, so I say it. Are we there yet?

She smiles. Nearly, my darling. Nearly.

Besides, few people and fewer novels get as close to the Arctic Circle as ‘Katherine Carlyle’.

 

Grade: B+

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