#BookReview The Penguin Book of Spanish Short Stories edited by Margaret Jull Costa @PenguinUKBooks

The Penguin Book of Spanish Short StoriesAbout the Book

This exciting new collection celebrates the Spanish short story, from its modern origins in the nineteenth century to the remarkable work being written today. Featuring over fifty stories selected by revered translator Margaret Jull Costa, it blends hidden gems and old favourites, surprising new voices and giants of Spain’s literary culture, from Emilia Pardo Bazán and Leopoldo Alas, through Mercè Rodoreda and Manuel Rivas, to Javier Marías. Brimming with romance, horror, history and farce, and showcasing alluring hairdressers, war defectors, vampiric mothers, and talismanic mandrake roots, the daring and entertaining assortment of tales in The Penguin Book of Spanish Short Stories will be a treasure trove for readers.

Format: Hardcover (416 pages)    Publisher: Penguin Classics
Publication date: 24th June 2021 Genre: Short Stories, Literature in Translation

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My Review

I cannot recall having read much literature by Spanish writers and, to be completely honest,  all the authors whose stories are included in this collection were previously unknown to me. I also learned it’s too simplistic to say the stories are translated from Spanish because, as the book’s editor Margaret Jull Costa explains in her introduction, they were originally written in one of Spain’s four languages – Basque (euskara), Castilian Spanish (castellano), Catalan (català) and Galician (gallego). Each story is accompanied by a brief biographical note about the author.

The stories are arranged in chronological order of the author’s birth, the earliest being 1843. I was struck by how much of an impact the Spanish Civil War had, either on the lives of the authors themselves – many of whom were forced into exile – or on the subject matter of the stories, especially in the case of the authors featured in the first half of the book.

In her introduction, Costa offers the advice not to read one story after the other but to treat the collection like a box of Belgian chocolates, savouring and pondering the stories ‘one or, at most, two at a time’. I did my best to follow this advice even if it meant showing considerably more restraint than I would if presented with an actual box of Belgian chocolates!

Margaret Jull Costa argues that a short story is not a truncated novel but is more akin to poetry and that ‘the best short stories create a world in just a few pages’. Indeed, many of the stories in the book are very short, just a few pages in length. As is often the case with short story collections, I enjoyed some more than others. Quite a few in the collection had a fantasy or supernatural element which is not really to my reading taste, although I can see them appealing to other readers. I’ve picked out some below that I particularly enjoyed.

The Novel on the Tram by Benito Pérez Galdós – one for anyone who’s ever eavesdropped on others’ conversations while travelling by train or bus, or wondered about the lives of their fellow passengers

The Talisman by Emilia Pardo Bazán – reminiscent of M. R. James’ story ‘Casting The Runes’

Duet for Two Coughs by Leopoldo Alas/Clarín– the imaginings of two strangers sharing the same malady

The Reverse Side of the Tapestry by Azorín– in which a poet weaves a story whilst at the same Fate is weaving his

The Boy by Ramón J. Sender– the brutality and senseless nature of war captured in just a few pages

Come Twelve o’ Clock by Ignacio Aldecoa – a mother’s warning to her son turned on its head

Summer Orchestra by Esther Tusquets – a poignant story of a young girl’s growing awareness of the complexities of the adult world

The Fullness of Summer by Quim Monzó – I read this after returning from a family lunch out but we couldn’t compete on the kissing and photographs front, although the author’s characters did have the advantage of being pre-pandemic

The Butterfly’s Tongue by Manuel Rivas – the story of an inspirational teacher that has a sting in its tail

And Shortly After That, There Was Now by Eider Rodríguez – the tale of a journey into the past that has an elegiac quality

My thanks to Matt Hutchinson at Penguin Books for my advance reading copy.

In three words: Imaginative, varied, insightful

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About the Editor

Margaret Jull Costa has translated the works of many Spanish and Portuguese writers, among them novelists: Javier Marías, José Saramago and Eça de Queiroz, and poets: Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, Mário de Sá-Carneiro and Ana Luísa Amaral. Her work has brought her numerous prizes, most recently, the 2018 Premio Valle-Inclán for On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes. In 2014, she was awarded an OBE for services to literature.

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