There is a small space where literary fiction, narratives dealing with finding both self and purpose, and love stories converge. The difficult thing is finding a novel that inhabits that space and actually offers a satisfying reading experience instead of a sappy, monotonous, meandering mess. David Trueba’s Blitz inhabits this space but also deconstructs the role of architecture and explores both Spain’s crippled economy from within a microcosm as well as a heterosexual relationship in which the female is much older than the male. The result is a lively, smart novel that takes the reader from Germany to Spain and from the beginning of the end of one relationship to what feels like the implosion and possible rebirth of another.
Beto is a young architect who travels with Marta, his girlfriend and business partner, to Munich to take part in an important landscape-planning competition. While in the German city, he receives a text message from Marta that wasn’t meant for him. The implications of that message are clear, and the relationship immediately disintegrates. Marta heads back home, but Beto, in an attempt to accomplish something he can’t quite understand, decides to stay behind, lonely, heartbroken, angry, and with nowhere to go in a strange city where no one speaks his language. In his disconcerted state, he unintentionally stumbles into the arms of Helga, an older woman who has spent years alone and is not looking for a relationship, much less one with a younger man from a different country. Their encounter, as well as a violent outburst Beto has at the conference, changes the course of the architect’s life in a way and puts him in the epicenter of an unexpected cross-generational encounter that surprisingly stays with him even after he returns to Spain and undergoes a series of important changes.
Blitz walks a razor-sharp line between genres; it is a bittersweet love story, a narrative about a geographically and emotionally displaced artist, and a satire of youthful aimlessness/immaturity that is set against a background that incorporates both architecture as a profession and Spain’s financial crisis. Thankfully, the mix works well, thanks to the author’s outstanding writing. That such a hybrid narrative never falls catastrophically off the plethora of sharp demarcating genre lines it constantly traverses is a testament to Trueba’s storytelling skills, which have already been established by his work on film and his previous novels.
The two elements that stand at the center of his novel are Trueba’s knack for dialogue, which he doesn’t separate with quotes or spacing from the rest of the writing, and the uniqueness of his characters. Marta is responsible for Beto’s heartbreak, but her absence is more of a character than her and she never seems evil even if she’s been unfaithful. Helga is a strange hideout for the protagonist and dances between being a very intelligent and experienced woman to being an object of desire that Beto is ashamed of. Lastly, Beto himself is a normal, self-deprecating man devastated by the loss of a woman who was more than girlfriend and partner:
Marta was my exile, my welcoming planet at a time when we felt vulnerable, expelled from our city, evicted from hearth and home. On stormy-weather days, when the economy was staining everything with winning and losing, Marta was my refuge and my shelter. But now I was outside the solar system, adrift without a compass, freezing with no heat to save me.
The interaction between Beto and the rest of the characters in the book propels the narrative forward even when the destination is uncertain. More than agitated stagnation, what we find here is a kind of aimless forward momentum that pushes Beto into new experiences while pushing him away from the pain of losing Marta and the momentary shame (and the shame he feels about feeling ashamed) of going to bed with a much older woman. This dynamic allows him to grow, to become a different person. The reader witnesses that growth, and that witnessing, filtered through the philosophical moments Trueba sprinkles throughout the novel, is a pleasure.
The passage of time is the perfect expression of transience, and it’s precisely this fleeting quality that endows each vital stage with significance. The meaning of life is to live according to the meaning of life.
Blitz is emotionally charged, funny, and packed with biting wit. Trueba possesses a clever style that doesn’t shy away from lyricism while dealing with everyday issues like sex and violence but that often drifts into art and philosophy, and the mixture is always amusing. This narrative is about an experience that signals the beginning of change, and the short chapters in the last third of the novel show how fast, unexpected, and unexplainable change can be. Fans of Trueba’s directorial work should check this one out, as well as anybody interested in great literature in translation.
by David Trueba; translated by John Cullen
Other Press; 176 p.