A chance encounter with a young Moroccan sends Amy, a British woman living in Barcelona, on a journey she never expected. Ignacio Gomez Cabrera – Nacho – a jazz pianist who drinks too much, often blacks out and forgets what he’s done to his girlfriend, Cristiani. Jordi Ferrer, who translates fiction for a living, loves a woman he can’t have and attracts the wrong kind of friends. While the three stories are separate, they are linked by time, place, and many of the same people who step in and out of the main characters’ lives.
The title is fitting since there is a dream like quality to Rupert Thomson’s novel. Amy, Nacho, and Jordi are not so much inhabiting their lives as they are on the outside looking in, seemingly helpless to control their actions or the outcome. Adding to the surreal atmosphere is Barcelona itself, whose neighborhoods, although described in detail, still seem mysterious and, at times, foreboding.
In “The Giant of Sarrià,” Amy is awakened in the middle of the night by someone crying. Rather than being frightened, she ventures into the car park adjacent to her building and finds a young man leaning against the side of a car, tears coursing down his face. She asks him if he needs help and brings him back to her apartment. (The next day, her friend, Montse, is shocked that Amy would bring a stranger inside.) They alternate between speaking Spanish and French. He uses the bathroom; she makes him mint tea. She gives him money for a taxi.
The next day, she finds him outside her apartment. His name is Abdel ben Tajah. He’s from Tangier and has been living in Barcelona for about six months. He comes prepared to cook her dinner, a lamb famine. She opens a bottle of Rioja. Soon they are making love. Amy knows embarking on this affair isn’t wise. (She’s at least 20 years older than Abdel.) But she can’t seem to help herself. Her daughter comes to visit and senses there is something different about her mother, but Amy won’t divulge anything. Not sure how to end the relationship, the decision is taken out of Amy’s hands when tragedy strikes.
“The King of Castelldefels,” Nacho, is also in a May-September romance. His girlfriend, Cristiani is 39, he’s 64. He meets her at a jazz club he frequents and soon she and her son, Aristides, move in. Initially, Nacho and Aristides form a close bond, the young boy hungry for a father figure. They go to football games together and Cristiani begins referring to them as her “two men.” Nacho has a brief encounter with a football star, Ronaldinho, but Aristides doesn’t believe him. Perhaps “Ronnie” needs a father, too, because they keep running into each other.
When Aristedes begins to pull away – in fact, more than pull away, he treats the older man with contempt – Nacho doesn’t understand why. Cristiani has bruises on her face and Nacho has no idea how she got them. Telling Nacho they are going to visit a relative, Cristiani and Aristedes disappear. When Nacho finally locates them, they are not visiting relatives, but living in a cheap rental. He still can’t seem to grasp that he’s the problem.
In the third story, “The Carpenter of Montjuic.” Jordi is a tortured soul. While his translating job requires him to be precise about language, he shows no such discernment in his private life. He can’t seem to stay away from Vic Drago, a shady businessman. He also sets himself up for heartbreak by refusing to admit that Mireia will never commit to him. A novel he’s translating, dealing with themes of love and revenge, becomes all two real to him. And Vic’s tale that a dresser he bought seems to be possessed somehow doesn’t seem far fetched. In the end, Jordi’s escape comes with a new job taking him to London, away from a life in Barcelona that will never bring him peace or happiness.
Top photo of Barcelona, Bigstock