A strange tale indeed, this one.
If you’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth, you’ll know that it’s perfectly possible to mix the brutal history of the Spanish Civil War, magical realism, a tight rural community that blends into the wooded mountains and a little girl’s perspective, to fantastically powerful effect.
This book does all that, but very differently, seemingly more quietly, and it takes a longer view.
The eponymous Winterlings are two sisters who spent a large part of their childhood as evacuees in Southampton. When they return to their home village in Galicia, it takes time to uncover the violence that made them flee. They both dream of becoming film stars, but how can they shake off the weight of the past?
As one sister says to the other: “Do you remember what your grandfather used to say about how a bad thought or an unfulfilled desire always ends up festering until it becomes an illness?”
This tale tells how that can happen. Cristina Sánchez-Andrade gets inside the heads of two adult sisters as they reach middle age together, with nobody else in the world but each other. The language is natural and direct: it feels like you are thinking their thoughts.
“For a while, their hands intertwined in the soapy water, seeking each other out like fish, brushing against each other. ‘Are they my fingers or yours?’ said one Winterling. ‘What difference does it make?’ answered the other, after some thought. They both started laughing.”
This is Samuel Rutter’s first book translation, and it is brilliant. I’m looking forward to see what he does next. There’s much more to be translated by Sánchez-Andrade. I’m waiting!