My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Sergio Vila-Sanjuan’s A Barcelona Heiress has all the ingredients for a great novel, following in the tradition of early 20th century writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck. There is the hotbed of political unrest during the Crown-supported dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera, anarchists bombing Barcelona, a growing discontent of the country’s poor and working classes.
Into this the author introduces a protagonist based upon his own family’s history, an indigent aristocratic lawyer who moonlights as a reporter, and through the lens of that individual a series of seemingly disconnected characters and events.
All these elements could have been riveting, for certainly there is enough intrigue and danger in Spain’s 20th century history to inspire even the most mundane minds. The execution, however, of that narrative tended to drag, partly because of long passages of exposition and political rhetoric, and partly because the author is so familiar with the history of which he’s writing that he forgets to inform the reader. Historical characters walk on and off the page like old familiars, without giving the reader any reference or landmarks, which would be fine for a Spanish audience, but alas not for an English-speaking one, even one as familiar with Spain’s history as this reviewer.
Transitions between scenes often runs to abruptness, leaving the reader adrift, although certainly the use of metaphor and language is accomplished. Overall, the novel needed the guidance of a good developmental editor, at least in this reviewer’s opinion.
Worth reading? Indeed yes. Why? Because of the historical background if nothing else. Memorable? Not so much.