Lead Review (Alone)
- Book: Alone
- Location: Catalonia
- Author: Adrian Nathan West (Translator), Carlota Gurt
Alone by Carlota Gurt, is a fascinating and entertaining novel with an engaging female character, set in a fictional Catalan village. A top read for anyone with an interest in mid-life crises and a great opportunity to read a successful Catalan book in translation. The book uses an interesting device: each chapter heading is a countdown in days towards – what? You have to read on to find out!
When Remei Sala is made redundant by a publisher in Barcelona she decides to head for the countryside to be alone; to find time and space to write her novel. The house she rents was formerly the family home, now owned by a helpful but taciturn villager, Manel. The house is familiar but it’s isolated and she can’t get a signal to phone her husband, Guim, back in the city. She makes the most of this isolation, while appreciating the kindness of Mercè, the shopkeeper, and the friendship of the neighbouring beekeeper, Flavi. Yet she is wary of the locals, who she suspects are gossiping about her and possibly misunderstanding her reasons for returning to her roots. But she’s optimistic and she begins to explore the area, which brings up memories of her childhood and contrasts with her more recent life in the city. She hopes this introspection will help her to kick-start her life and her writing but somehow it all goes wrong…
Remei is an introvert, who lost her beloved father at a young age and has been overshadowed all her life by her overbearing mother and to a certain extent her husband. Her life as a woman approaching middle age has become predictable and her marriage, while not without affection, isn’t a grand passion any more. Her aim is to achieve something in her own right and she sees this stay in the countryside alone as her opportunity to devote herself to this aim. She also learns that ten years before a woman had been found naked in the countryside having seemingly gone mad, which gives a sense of foreboding. Mei wants to untangle her life, but she ends up unravelling her mind.
Carlota Gurt uses rich, poetic detail to describe the Catalan countryside; mentioning the flora and fauna, of course, but also introducing the myths associated with the mountains, streams and caves. At times the imagery is quite visceral and reflective of Remei’s own inner turmoil. There are wonderful descriptions of Catalan village life and traditions, the people and institutions.
Alone will strike a chord especially with anyone who has ever felt the need to re-evaluate and reset their lives. Remei is a sympathetic character and it’s easy to associate yourself with her experiences, which leads to a compulsion to read on.
*I’ve learned that various passages in Alone have echoes of a 20th century Catalan classic novel called Solitud, by Víctor Català. Without this information you can still enjoy the book, as I did, though perhaps someone familiar with Solitud would have an even more intense experience when reading Alone.