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Novel set mainly in DONOSTIA (San Sebastián)

8th April 2024

April in Spain by John Banville, novel set mainly in Donostia (San Sebastián).

Novel set mainly in DONOSTIA (San Sebastián)

What a beautifully written romp to Donostia in the Basque Country and a delightful choice to read whilst in Spain.

Dublin pathologist Quirke is holidaying with his Austrian wife Evelyn but he is a curmudgeonly so-and-so – “For him, petulance was a pastime“. And yet, he is a likeable character, who is created with humour and care. He has had years ‘on the bottle’ although, with Evelyn keeping a good eye on him, he drinks much less. Yet his former colleagues in Dublin have elephantine memories, and recollections of his drunken interactions are still deeply embedded.

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Whilst in Donostia, he is slicing open some oysters and the implement slips deep into the pad of his thumb, so much so that he needs hospital treatment. His first encounter is with a young woman, who is clearly from Ireland; she then abruptly makes herself scarce. It takes time but there comes a point when he recollects who she might be, that he knows her and that in theory she should be dead by all accounts. She curiously has the same initials as the woman he has in mind, which just confirms his suspicions. He gets in touch with his daughter, Phoebe – with whom he (of course) has a mixed relationship – because the young woman in question was a good friend of hers.

Novel set mainly in DONOSTIA (San Sebastián)

The novel opens with Terry Tice, a ne’er do well who is living an odd life in London and who hangs out in a twilight milieu. He comes to play a significant part in the story.

This is a story set around the 1970s – although not explicitly detailed – when Franco still ruled, tourism in the country was in its infancy and the dead period giveaway is Evelyn’s “pageboy’ haircut, which was so typical of the era. Franco had a house in the region, not necessarily because he loved it but he wanted to keep a wary eye on the local populace.

This is the kind of story that engages one for the ride and writing, it bowls along and scoops up the reader in its wake. The evolution of the story is fun and well plotted, although a touch implausible at times, but nevertheless it really does make for a good read. It is excellent on the local setting of Donostia, the food, local life and atmosphere of this coastal town are wonderfully evoked.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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