Which to talk about first? Erm... let's start with the book, and move onto the event, because after all that's the order in which I did things. Chronology, folks - it's your friend.
Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal is a Catalan classic, originally published in 1985 (which was described last night as 'modern', but since it's the year I was born I couldn't feel it was that modern) and - like all Peirene's titles - very short. At just 126 pages this novel (novella? Let's stick to 'novel' for now) manages to encapsulate an entire life, from childhood to death - and never does it feel rushed.
Anyone could see that there were a lot of us at home. Someone had to go.The opening line of the novel - and I think it's rather a great one - sets the tone for the narrative throughout. Conxa's voice could be called dispassionate, but perhaps a fairer description is 'stoical' or 'resilient'. She moves to her aunt's house; later gets married and has children; sees her family disrupted in the Spanish Civil War, and ends the novel in a state that, in other hands, would be tragic. But Conxa never bewails her fate, there is no gnashing of teeth - rather, her story is told simply and honestly. I love what Polly wrote in her review - "Barbal's writing is simple but not simplistic". Conxa is given a voice that is undemonstrative, flowing along in a way that is unobtrusive but never dull. I don't know how Barbal does it, because each individual sentence is very plain, but somehow they combine to make a voice that is startlingly present and human.
Polly has done much better than me with her review, as have the others out there, because all I can think to say is that it's a good, good book, with ingredients that shouldn't quite have worked, but in Barbal's capable hands it does so. It seems to me impossible to analyse Stone in a Landslide's component parts and discover why it works, but suffice to say: it does.
I'm so grateful to Meike and Peirene Press for making these European modern classics available in English, and in such beautiful editions too. For more details see their website and their witty blog. If you have any suggestions for European books published after 1945 and under 200pp. long (and which haven't yet been translated into English) do let Meike know your ideas: email@example.com
And... onto last night! Meike very kindly invited some bloggers along to the launch of Stone in a Landslide, and so it was a mini-reunion for me, Simon S, Polly, and Sakura. Which was lovely, nice to see you guys, sorry I was teasing you all... The four of us - and seemingly the rest of London - piled into the tiny bookHAUS shop to hear a bit of introduction to the novel, and Claire Skinner (yes, the mum from Outnumbered, though doubtless she has Shakespeare under her belt too) read sections from the novel. It was very hot, but very good - Skinner's readings were an especial treat; she really 'got' Stone in a Landslide and brought its simplicity and truthfulness alive.
And Meike wins gold stars and suchlike for being one very lovely lady! Although there were lots of very important-looking folk there, she made us feel really welcome - we had a nice chat, and I realised afresh just how brilliant the people behind independent publishers are. The relationship between bloggers and smaller publishers is still in its early days, but can be so mutually joyous - last night being a great example. Long live bloggers, and long love Peirene!
Books to get Stuck into...
I've chosen a couple of books which you might like if this review's whetted your appetite. I think they both work as links, but for very different reasons...
Life and Death of Harriett Frean - May Sinclair: for another short book encapsulating an entire life, you can do little better than Sinclair's excellent 1922 novel.
Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell: completely different tone, and non-fiction to boot, but this incredibly well written account of Orwell's experience fighting in the Spanish Civil War gives an alternative angle and would make a fascinating companion read.