The business card from Andreas Corelli, which Martín woke up finding in his hand after having had sex with Chloé, had the following written on it:
Dear David, life is filled with great expectations. When you are ready to make yours come true, get in touch with me. I’ll be waiting. Your friend and reader, A.C.
This prompts Martín to reflect on how his life has changed. Before he got famous, he spent his nights wishing for the courage to talk to Cristina and waiting to be able to return to the newspaper offices. But wailey wailey wailey, to quote Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men, now that he is famous nobody likes him anymore at the office.
Perhaps, if one of my literary efforts were a resounding failure, I might be able to recover my colleagues affection, I told myself.
Seriously, get over yourself. You wanted to be a published author, you are now a successfully published author at the age of seventeen, so what if your colleagues can’t deal with that? Martín starts reminiscing about his sad childhood. His mother abandoned him and his father when he was young. His father had just come back from the war and did not know what to do with a child. He had a hard time getting jobs and became a drug addict. On top of that, Martín was a very weak and sickly child, so that must have added some worries. Martín was also a very lonely child and he found solace in books.
Words and the mystery of their hidden science fascinated me, and I saw in them a key with which I could unlock a boundless world, a safe haven from that home, those streets and those troubled days in which even I could sense that only a limited fortune awaited me.
I can sympathise with him here. I did not have a troubled home growing up, but I was bullied at school and had very few friends, so I also liked to escape into the world of books as soon and as often as I could. So the world of words as a refuge is something I can relate to.
My favourite place in the whole city was the Sempere & sons bookshop on Calle Santa Ana. It smelled of old paper and dust and it was my sanctuary, my refuge.
Sempere supplies the young Martín with books, and Martín tries to pay him with whatever small change he has. Then Sempere gives him Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Martín just loves it. He reads it all the time, and one night he is discovered by his father who flies into a fit of rage that his son is wasting electricity by reading a book. Father Martín beats the living daylight out of his son, but little David bravely endures the beatings and does not give up the book. When his father is asleep later that night – or rather, early in the morning – Martín gets the book and goes over to the bookshop. Sempere is naturally appalled to see Martín in such a state and calls a doctor. He then tells Martín:
‘Next time you want to save a book, save it properly; don’t risk your life. Just let me know and I’ll take you to a secret place where books never die and nobody can destroy them.’
For those of us who have read Shadow of the Wind, we know what place Sempere is talking about. But he does not take Martín there now. He takes Great Expectations from Martín though to keep it safe. Martín proves to be a good student at school and his teacher would like him to continue with his education as he shows promise. Of course, Martín’s father would have none of it, he does not want to take charity from people. Father Martín is quite the negative thinker, coming up with wonderful things to say to his son, like,
‘All the bad things you do in your life come back to you, David.’
‘Sooner or later, everything and everybody abandons you.’
With respect to the latter quote, father Martín says that about his wife. Martín knows who his mother is and where she works, but she doesn’t know that he watches her sometimes. Martín has inherited some of his father’s bleak outlook on life as he remarks, In my world, great expectations only existed between the pages of a book. Life doesn’t get better for Martín, as his father is shot right in front of him.
I remember the eyes of the gunman fixed on mine, debating whether he should kill me too. Then, all of a sudden, the men hurried off and disappeared into the narrow streets trapped between the factories of Pueblo Nuevo.
Martín is lost all on his own, hiding away in the workshops of the newspaper press until he is discovered. Vidal hears about him and gives him a job as errand boy, which eventually enables him to rent the room at the pensión. In the first week of him living there, a man shows up asking for Martín, handing him a box which contains his father’s revolver and bullets. Martín assumes it is from the moneylender, but somehow I have my doubts. He finally goes back to Sempere & Sons to buy his copy of Great Expectation which he had left there those many years ago. But he is out of luck.
Sempere, I remember, gave me a wistful smile and put a hand on my shoulder. ‘I sold it this morning,’ he confessed.