(Viking, Â£10.99, 213pp)
Hunting the Last Wild Man, by Angela Vallvey (translated by Margaret Jull Costa)
Elizabeth Nash enjoys an effervescent farce from the Spain of AlmodÃ³var
Saturday 06 July 2002
This is a sparkling cold shower of a novel that leaves you gasping with exhilaration and laughter. Candela, a sassy feminist trying to carve her own path through the insistent demands of her four sisters, her mother, lottery-obsessed granny and penny-pinching aunt, takes us on an Almodóvarian romp through Spanish working-class family life. Angela Vallvey's pin-sharp optic bores through the self-delusions and deceptions spun by this brood of frustrated females, who live on top of one another, each trying to escape. Brandy is the tart, perfecting her role as sex object bent on landing a rich husband; Carmina is a butcher for whom life is empty; Bely a beady-eyed teenager smart beyond her years; and Gador, brainless but lovable, is heavily pregnant by her worthless bastard of a husband, Victor.
The plot snaps into action when Gador stomps out on Victor after finding his stash of porn videos, starring himself enjoying practices he never shared with his naive wife. Gador moves back home, and the sisters plan how she can take her revenge.
Meanwhile Candela, who works in a funeral parlour, is summoned to lay out the body of a prosperous gypsy patriarch. The old boy wanted to be buried with a favourite walking stick. As Candela wrenches the stick from his grasp, the handle comes loose and half a kilo of diamonds spill out.
Candela is accustomed to rationalising the emotional chaos around her with philosophical reflections. But the dilemma posed by this find terrifies her, especially when she meets the old man's son, Amador, a gorgeous, machista romantic hero – Mr Wrong incarnate – and falls madly in love.
Should she keep the diamonds and risk being knifed to death? Or hand them to the grieving family? She resolves on silence and embarks on an affair with Amador, to the horror of her family. Meanwhile, brother Antonio is lacrimose over the desertion of his wife Loles. It strikes Candela that Loles bears a startling resemblance to the woman in worthless Victor's home videos ...
This bizarre but compelling plot roars on, powered by a crossfire of raunchy dialogue. In the course of catty observations, wistful romantic hopes and earthy one-liners, Candela learns that their father deserted after a long affair with their mean-minded aunt. Yes, confesses Aunt Mary, their father was the only man to make her happy, but she couldn't tame him. She financed his bolt to Brazil. So Candela plans to use her secret wealth to hunt her father, the last wild man. But before her gems are turned into cash, the tale makes further incongruous twists, all hilarious, all somehow believable. You hear this stuff every day in the real Spain, but you rarely see it in print.
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