Translated from the Swedish by Frank Perry.
This is a book set in Spain told (mostly) by teenager Araceli about (mostly) the life of Alba Cambó, a fictional short story writer and Araceli’s downstairs neighbour. It’s definitely not about Bret Easton Ellis. (The blurb on the back is somewhat misleading – the part with the dogs happens at the end and isn’t a main part of the book in any way).
It feels more like a collection of inter-linked stories with Alba Cambó as the thread, rather than a novel. Information is very gradually revealed, often in other characters’ stories about themselves, and as the reader you piece together Cambó’s life, particularly her impact on others and what they think about her, although she’s still mostly elusive by the end. Although there are male characters, and male narrators, this is very much a book centred on the women and women’s stories.
I really liked the writing style and I found it an enjoyable read, so I’m not sure why I didn’t love it. It may be because I’m not into reading short stories at the moment, and this had a short story feel to it, but also because I wasn’t particularly interested in the character’s perspective in the final, largest, section. It’s the one part of the book which centres the kind of male character the rest of the book purposefully de-centres. I think Wolff does this at the end in order to further centre the women and solidify her themes, but I don’t think she pulls it off. Ending with a chunk of something I didn’t care about left me without any strong feelings about the book either way, and I had to think back to remember how much I’d enjoyed earlier sections and characters.
An enjoyable, well-written book, that almost-but-not-quite brings it all together.