When Open Letter published Catalan author Rodoreda’s final novel, Death in Spring, in 2009, I was blown away. It was my favourite book of the year and unlike anything I had read before: surreal, beautiful, macabre and controlled all at once. Lyrically written and packed to the edges with idiosyncratic images, it’s a seminal work by a singular artist.
This new omnibus collection (skillfully translated by Martha Tennant), organises her short work chronologically – the author, born in 1908, died in 1983 – and displays the many different sides of Rodoreda. Generally, her early work showcases a more classic style, but one melded to the same frenetic psychology of her later work. In the opener ‘Dahlias’ – a woman struggles to deal with her unfaithful husband, who walks the streets of their small town with another woman. The husband plays tricks on her and her mental state slowly frays until they finally separate. Characters in the early stories deal with grief and alienation in expected ways in well-told stories. Toward the end of the book, more peculiar things begin happening. In The Salamander, a woman is accused of being a witch, but turns into a salamander and escapes.
The stories here are linked by a disturbing undercurrent of pain, often triggered by oppression, whether that comes from a rigidly moralistic society or a failed relationship. Classical or crazed, Rodoreda is always in control of her writing, regardless of the form.