Sketches of Spain
Gala’s Jungle of Love and Aldecoa’s Enigma, Plus Holst’s Uppity Danish Women
At the colossal Fnac megastore in Barcelona last month, you had to bushwhack your way past bales of Jean Auel’s The Shelters of Stone — the ubiquitously promoted tome could be had in no less than four separate editions: Catalan, Spanish, UK, and US — and fend off aggressively planted thickets of Star Wars visual dictionaries (not to mention a heap of Harlan Coben’s Tell No One, translated as the jaw-bending No Se Lo Digas a Nadie). But once you plowed past that panoramic display of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, there it was: an actual indigenous Spanish bestseller, Antonio Gala’s Guests in the Garden, which has sprung open a whole Pandora’s box of amorous anxieties in its compendium of stories about the multifarious vagaries of love: from the sweetly diverting to the dolorous, and right down to the rankly incestuous. Described as a sort of bestiary of unruly passions and hothouse carnality, this one’s a guided tour through the gigolo-filled bowers of Gala’s grand jungle of love — from the “pudgy gay couple” lodged in a claustrophobic apartment, to the lovers who hook up in a stuck elevator. The 66-year-old, Córdoba-born author’s 1993 novel Turkish Passion was deemed “an adventurous pilgrimage of sexual passion and unknown circumstances” loaded with “ever-waylaying surprises” that bubble over into “a most volcanic plot.” That title was published in Italy (RCS), Greece (Livanis), France (Lattès), and Korea (Creative Times), among other nations, and Gala earlier grabbed the Planeta Prize for his 1990 first novel The Crimson Manuscript. More than 250,000 copies of the new one have been sold, and all rights are open from Cristina Mora at Planeta.
Also spicing the Spanish list with local flavor in recent months (though it’s dropped off the top ten at the moment) is Josefina Aldecoa’s The Enigma, wherein a married professor wakes up one day to find himself trapped in a life of bourgeois banalities. Having jetted off to study in New York, however, he falls hard for his sultry, scintillating colleague Teresa, and thus ensues an epic psychic battle between emotional complacency and stark, raving freedom. The 76-year-old Aldecoa co-founded the magazine Espadaña and holds a doctorate in philosophy from Madrid, and her 1990 novel A Teacher’s Story, now in its 13th printing, was the first in a trilogy of works kicking off with a “dense and vigorous” portrait of an emancipated woman in 1920s Spain. The new one (not part of the trilogy) has sold 45,000 copies so far, and all foreign rights are open from the Bad Homburg–based agent Ray-Güde Mertin.
Meanwhile, a woman’s work is never done in Denmark, where Hanne-Vibeke Holst’s action-packed novel The Crown Princess follows thirty-something heroine Charlotte Damgaard as she’s tapped as the Social Democratic Party’s new Minister of Environment, only to get sucked into a whirlpool of back-stabbing colleagues, sniping reporters, and a sniveling husband who gripes about “how difficult it is to be a woman when you’re a man.” This is Holst’s first novel after two detours through the documentary genre, but she previously racked up six-figure sales for her 1994 novel Real Life, which sold 85,000 copies in Denmark, as well as 50,000 copies in Germany (Bertelsmann) plus 55,000 in Sweden (Bonniers). That book follows pregnant television reporter Therese as she whisks back to Copenhagen from a dangerous foreign trip to give birth to a daughter, and ends up bonding with a certain Heidi of the high-rise suburbs. Next, taking up where Real Life left off, the author’s 1998 novel A Happy Woman sold 130,000 copies in Denmark and follows Therese’s travails as her father dies and she swoons over a suave filmmaker while on assignment in Budapest. We’re told sales of the new book have been “very satisfying so far,” and rights have been sold to Sweden (Bonniers) for “a huge advance — one of the highest ever paid for Scandinavian literature in Scandinavia.” See Esthi Kunz at Gyldendal for rights.
Also rocking the list in Denmark is Swedish Crime maestro Åke Edwardson, whose timely novel Heaven Is a Place on Earth (see PT, 9/01) has gained traction in this nation with its haunting tale of a four-year-old boy who is abducted from a playground and later found to be abused. When another boy disappears for good, shrewd Inspector Erik Winter steps in to wreak some deductive vengeance. Critics have dubbed this title “the best, the most complex literary construction that Åke Edwardson has achieved,” describing the author as a sort of Delta bluesman of crime fiction, singing “a sad but logical tune where the three basic chords are outsiderness, loneliness, and desperation.” In addition to Denmark, the book has been sold to Germany (Econ/List/Ullstein), and Norway (Tiden), with other rights available from Agneta Markås at Norstedts. And for what it’s worth in Denmark, 74-year-old former journalist Erik Juul Clausen has come down from the mountain with a historical tale called The Healer, which is said to tell the story of Jesus Christ from — yes — “a new and exciting angle.” Prominent Roman citizen Publius embarks upon a secret mission to Palestine to investigate a certain mysterious healer, and shortly thereafter, as his wife chucks the old polytheism and converts to Christianity, he stumbles upon the Crucifixion itself. Though the book has slipped off the list this month, foreign rights may be vouchsafed from the Hanserik Tönnheim agency in Malmö.
Finally, the perennially tetchy mother-daughter nexus has enthralled France this month as a nonfiction title hits the list: Mothers-Daughters: A Three-Way Relationship by psychoanalyst Caroline Eliacheff and sociologist Nathalie Heinich. Emotional rigidity, narcissism, hysteria — it’s all here — but the twist in this “passionate and exceptionally limpid work” is to freshen up the gender gloss with abundant examples from classic works of literature and cinema, reviewing the role of moms in everything from Almodovar’s High Heels to Edith Wharton’s Pomegranate Seed. The authors also delve into “extreme mothers” (Hitchcock’s the relevant reference there) and “star mothers” (Bergman’s Autumn Sonata), and get mileage out of Madame Bovary. The title, by the way, refers not to some maternal ménage à trois but to that third party in Oedipus-land, dad. We’re told 100,000 copies have been sold in France to date, with rights sold to Italy (Einaudi), and submissions under way in the US. See Monique DiDonna at the French Publishers’ Agency.