Spanish Author's Debut in English: End of Love by Marcos Giralt Torrente

Erin Berman

End of Love CoverIn his English-debut, Spanish author Marcos Giralt Torrente presents a collection of four stories (forthcoming in October) that wrestle with love’s ability to both connect and alienate. Each story finds a mature male narrator grappling through events retrospectively. All four men must come to terms with the consequences of events as they grapple with a love felt or a love witnessed. Though their plights are unique, each man sorts through memories and churns over the past, trying to comprehend how love went wrong.

While this quartet of stories has often direct and profound language, its one shortcoming is that it is written in earnest, not urgency. The serious intent behind each narrator to study, to rectify, to remember, and to ultimately understand becomes mildly laborious. The languid nature of these musings removes any urgency from the narrative, as the protagonist mulls over certain events and wonders what subtle intricacy of emotion contained the fatal flaw of each love’s demise.

At the start of each story, the reader understands that decisions have been solidified, mistakes have been made, and love has been lost. Unfortunately, this concrete understanding makes the reader less willing to engage in the abstractions of the stories as the protagonist searches for answers. I was dragged through each story; chum being cast off the side of the boat. This was, in part, because the variation between stories was minimal. The idea that Torrente is trying to establish becomes expected: there is not one moment in time in which love is lost, but lost love is instead the culmination of small instances and circumstances, which we have no control over.

Take, for example, the first story. The basic premise is that a couple’s stay on a remote island off the coast of Africa goes amiss. The couple travels to the island in search of antiques, and are surprised when two other tourists share their boat ride over. The tourists, a German couple whose intent in seeing the island is never quite revealed, make the protagonist uneasy. From the start he feels unsettled by their company, which causes a divide in his relationship with his partner, Marta. A Victorian sense of the uncanny establishes itself in this story and runs through the course of the collection: there is something not quite right, yet it is inexplicable; a mere shadow that haunts.

The narrator’s intent is to discover what is inexplicable, and he finds that “my job was to worry, to ask questions, and hers to quell my doubts, destroy my sickly skepticism with her gushing vitality. I am the one who no longer hopes for anything and she the one who always hopes for more.” Despite this profound realization, it seems he wants to establish how two opposite people could have come to be together. The language is full of questioning, of suppositions, of wondering how things might be or could have been: “I remember it precisely as I have just described, but I imagine it was nothing so simple. What’s simple is what can be explained in simple terms. Hunches cannot be explained; they are anticipatory sensations, and even when normal, they cannot be explained.” This quote seems to sum up not only the lofty, abstract language found within this single story, but all four stories themselves.

In the second story, a young man, who has grown up enthralled by the escapes of his bohemian cousin and her husband, watches them fall into a state of resentful dependence. His role in their relationship turns into that of a liaison or interpreter, and the reader must bear witness as he tries to sort out what went wrong in this abandoned relationship. He muses:

What a sad thing life is, and don't tell me otherwise. We believe we have an impregnable interior, a place where we are defended, where we can steel ourselves, but then it turns out that even we can't get in. Even the most elemental things, our dreams, elude our will. How different everything would have been if my desire had obeyed me. Deep down, we have been equals, even in that. In her own way, Alicia and I have been captives of the same incapacity.

However, this incapacity is what makes each story feel slightly unfulfilled. There is something lacking in the prose to drive the narrative forward; instead it continually turns to the past.

In the third story, an all-consuming love affair develops between a troubled boy and a wealthy but equally troubled girl. As the reader has come to expect, the love will not last and the scar cannot heel. While Torrente demonstrates his knowledge of human pain and the misery we inflict upon ourselves and one another in the name of love, the story feels familiar. The final image of the girl committing suicide at the close of this story appears overly dramatic.

In the final story, the one that is perhaps the most poignant, the son of divorced parents tries in vain to reunite them before realizing why he is wrong to do so. This story resonates most clearly because it touches on the heartbreak that comes from watching a parent's relationship unravel. I found this heartbreak the most touching, even though the narrator grapples lethargically with the events of his parents' lives that led them astray.

Overall, this collection was intriguing, but left me wanting more. While it was successful in its attempt to address how distance between people can become suddenly unbridgeable, I found its loftiness and earnestness distracting, at times. These small dramas don’t illuminate meaning for the reader. Instead, the reader is left surmising that the heartfelt stories never amounted to much. While this is perhaps the overall theme in the collection—that it is impossible to sort through the small but consequential misunderstandings in our lives, that love is unknowable, that relationships are mysterious, that our attempts to rescue love lost are always in vain—I look to literature to help me sort through these concepts. I don’t look to literature to confound me more.

End of Love
Marcos Giralt Torrente
McSweeney's Books, 2013
ISBN 978-1938073564



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