Lead Review

  • Book: The Woman in Valencia
  • Location: Valencia
  • Author: Ann Marie Boulanger (Translator), Annie Perreault

Review Author: Tina Hartas



This is certainly a novel where setting is a character. Valencia is integral to the story, whether touring The City of Arts and Sciences or exploring the Ciutat Vella, as well as venturing into the slightly less salubrious areas beyond the tourist centre. Horchata and fartons are de rigeur (check out our post on where to get the BEST horchata and fartons in Valencia, plus a selection of top eateries and further book recommendations).

Claire Halde is on vacation in Valencia with her family from Montréal. They choose to stay at the Valencia Palace hotel, which is situated in the outskirts. It seems an odd choice, but here she is with her husband and two children, ready to immerse herself into the sights of the city. Whilst unwinding by the pool back at the hotel, she has an encounter that will change her life. She is passed a tote bag by a random woman for safekeeping; a shocking event ensues.

The family returns home, shaken, and Claire is numbed by her own inaction. She carries the guilt with her and eventually she decides to return to Valencia, to, what, retrace her steps? Seek atonement? Find out what the woman really wanted of her? Discover her identity? Whatever drives Claire is ‘unfinished business’.

Forward to 2025 and a woman is running in the Valencia Marathon, a breathless stream of consciousness, possessed by random thoughts as she conquers each kilometre. The prose has little punctuation and you can feel the pad of her running shoes on the tarmac as she strides and then heaves her body towards the finish line.

Claire clearly went downhill after her dreadful experience and the narrative reflects the fractured nature of someone sliding into mental health problems. As a reader, one observes the marionette-like responses of a person flailing around in the aftermath of tragedy. How to make sense of it? Perhaps one can’t.

This is ultimately a thought provoking read, I particularly enjoyed it because of my close association with Valencia. Although plenty of buildings and sights are listed, ticked off and revisited, the city isn’t given a particular personality.  The novel is a fairly short read, it won’t allow you to really get close to the characters but offers an insight into a choice of actions and the ripple effect actions then have on others. One woman’s actions unleashed a whole domino process on people she never really met. That is the serendipitous nature of encounters both positive and negative.

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