All right, another two chapters. I feel like I am slowly drowning in this book, but I will persevere. At least it is good to see that there were actual reasons why I didn’t really like the book the first time I read it. I know lots of people praise it to high heaven, but I just can’t get over how much I dislike Martín and I don’t think that was the author’s intention.
Onwards. Martín is moaning and complaining about having a woman in the house. A seventeen year old girl really who keeps annoying him with her chatter. He doesn’t harbour kind thoughts towards her, from wanting to strangle her to deciding he needs to find her a boyfriend. And just right there my estimation of Martín takes another plunge. I don’t care what the rituals around finding a suitable partner were around that time, but I find it very presumptuous of Martín to think that 1) Isabella needs a boyfriend, and 2) that it is up to Martín to “find her one”.
So he not-so-subtly asks her why she does not have a boyfriend. She counters by saying that she likes older men, men like Martín. And she asks him if he likes younger girls. Martín gets uncomfortable by this and tells her that is the end of the argument and she should go and write. So it was all right for him to question her lack of partner, but when she turns the tables and makes it about him, he suddenly wants to stop the conversation? How convenient.
Isabella says she doesn’t have any inspiration to write. That might be why she is cleaning the house like a madwoman, always bothering Martín. I was just wondering why she wasn’t doing what she was there for. Martín gives her a little pep talk in inspiration.
‘Inspiration comes when you stick your elbows on the table, your bottom on the chair and you start sweating. Choose a theme, an idea, and squeeze your brain until it hurts. That’s called inspiration.’
I consider myself called to order by this as well.
Isabella tells Martín she wants to write about him and she then asks about his own progression on his book. Martín tells her that he is still at the research stage. Martín tells her he is still trying to get to ‘the heart of the subject, to its emotional truth’. Isabella asks him what emotional truth is.
‘It’s sincerity within fiction.’
‘So, does one have to be an honest, good person to write fiction?’
‘No. One has to be skilled. Emotional truth is not a moral quality, it’s a technique.’
‘You sound like a scientist,’ protested Isabella.
‘Literature, at least good literature, is science tempered with the blood of art. Like architecture or music.’
‘I thought it was something that sprang from the artist, just like that, all of a sudden.’
‘The only things that spring all of a sudden are unwanted body hair and warts.’
Nice passage, and I think there is a lot of truth in what Martín tells Isabella.
Isabella brings the conversation around to Corelli again and she once again asks Martín what he is writing. He finally gives in and tells her he is writing a fable, a legend. Isabella asks him if he is writing it because of the money, but Martín says he is writing it because he has to, he owes Corelli.
Eventually Martín sends her away to go and write. Isabella hesitates, then tells him she likes being his assistant.
The girl was staring at me as if her life depended on a kind word. I yielded to temptation. Good words are a vain benevolence that demand no sacrifice and are more appreciated than real acts of kindness.
So Martín says some empty, meaningless kind words, and Isabella leaves his room mollified. I guess Isabella is a real teenager – one time moody, the next almost manically cheerful, then sulky, then snarky – but it is really getting on my nerves and I can see why Martín doesn’t really like her. He feels sorry for her, but he doesn’t like her.
The next chapter opens with Martín going to a bookshop to get a Bible. He goes to Gustavo Barceló’s bookshop and we are somehow supposed to know or remember who this person is. Now, admit I am terrible with names in books, but the only bookseller I remember is Sempere. Maybe a one sentence (re-) introduction would not have been amiss.
Barceló is happy to see Martín and comments on his appearance.
‘Next to you, Valentino looks like someone just back from the salt mines.’
So did Martín become more good-looking as part of his deal with Corelli?
The bookseller is surprised to hear Martín wants a Bible, but calls for his assistant.
‘Dalmau, our friend Martín here needs a Bible that is legible, not decorative. I’m thinking of Torres Amat, 1825. What do you think?’
One of the peculiarities of Barceló’s bookshop was that books were spoken about as if they were exquisite wines, catalogues by bouquet, aroma, consistency and vintage.
Sounds like my kind of bookshop!
While Damau is digging up a suitable Bible for Martín, Barceló tells Martín that he was recently in Paris and made some enquiries about Corelli’s publishing company, Éditions de la Lumière. Apparently Sempere has asked him to. He has found out that the publishing company was established in 1881 and closed down in 1914, apparently because of a fire. Corelli retired to the country, was bit by a viper and died.
Of course Martín cannot believe this information. He has seen Corelli not that long ago, so how can he be dead? Of course he does not tell Barceló any of that.
Barceló had been talking to an old enemy of Corelli’s who was mad at Corelli for stealing one of his authors, Lambert.
‘Lambert was a terminal opium addict and had accumulated enough debts to pave Due de Rivoli from end to end. Coligny suspected that Corelli had offered Lambert an astronomical sum and that the poor man, who was dying, had accepted it because he wanted to leave his children well provided for.’
Sounds like a familiar situation.
Barceló goes on to tell Martín that the book Corelli asked Lambert to write for him was a religious text. Lambert had a fit of madness and set fire to the manuscript, himself and the offices of the publishing company.
‘A lot of people thought the opium had frazzled his brains, but Coligny suspected that it was Corelli who had pushed him towards suicide.’
Barceló is discounting Coligny’s story, especially since Coligny had warned Barceló to stay away from Corelli, even though he also told Barceló that Corelli was dead, but Martín is not so confident that it was just the ravings of a madman.
As I walked away from the shop a cold anxiety began to invade me and I had the feeling that the streets and my destiny were set on nothing but quicksand.