2010 Books in Translation Novella

Stone in a Landslide – Maria Barbal


Translated from the Catalan by Laura McGloughlin and Paul Mitchell

I loved Beside the Sea, so wondered how the second book from the newly formed Peirene Press could ever live up to its emotional older sister. The two books were very different, but I’m afraid that I didn’t think Stone in a Landslide was in the same league as Beside the Sea.

Stone in a Landslide is set in a small village in the Pyrenees and follows 13-year-old Conxa as she leaves her parental home to live with her childless aunt. The book tells the story of her entire life, showing us how she finds a husband, cares for her children and copes with with the impact of the Spanish Civil War.

The book was very easy to read, but the simplicity of the prose left me cold. The 126 pages flew by, but I felt that it tried to cover too much in a short time and so I ended the book desperate to know more about her life. It is the same feeling I often get when reading a short story – I want more detail, more emotion and more complexity.

The gentle, simple narrative will appeal to a lot of people, but I felt that much of the book, especially scenes of the Spanish Civil War, were rushed.  Coxna led such an interesting life, but I never felt as though I knew her or what she was thinking. Descriptions of her surroundings seemed to be give more prominence than her emotions:

It was a bright day and I felt as if I was looking at everything in a huge mirror. The wind was fresh, you could still make out the snow on the mountain tops, even though the new grass had come up some days before. The birches stretched their arms to the sky waiting for their soft foliage.

Overall it was an interesting glimpse into life in the Pyrenees, but I felt it lacked depth.

Recommended to those who enjoy gentle short stories.

Opinions are divided on this one:

…each individual sentence is very plain, but somehow they combine to make a voice that is startlingly present and human. Stuck in a Book

I read the entire book feeling like an observer, and not a participant. Reading Matters

Stone in a Landslide is beautiful, simple and stark. Yet it is filled with warmth, the smell of grass on the mountains and the sunshine of a late afternoon. Chasing Bawa

21 replies on “Stone in a Landslide – Maria Barbal”

I have the three books but I started with Portrait of a young mother and I’m going to end with Beside the sea to save the best till last (even though Chris told me what happens at the end)

I keep meaning to pick this up but it keeps getting over looked, I should make the effort.

Jessica, I like saving the best until last too! I don’t think knowing the ending of BtS will spoil it – in many ways it might make it even darker.

I’m looking forward to reading Portrait of a Young Mother – I haven’t read a one sentence book before 🙂

We still don’t have Beside the Sea at our library yet! And last time I looked, it wasn’t available on Kindle. I shall wait for it. I am surprised that the author would attempt to cover someone’s entire LIFE in 126 pages. I could write more than 126 pages on my past week!

Thanks for the link Jackie! I do agree with you that Stone in a Landslide had less of an impact than Beside the Sea (which is probably my favourite out of the three too). However this was the first Peirene Press book I read and I thought the simplicity of the story was what made it stand out. Most fiction set during the Spanish Civil War is brutal so it made an interesting change.

Sakura, I’m afraid I like my wars to be brutal! I know some people are a bit squeamish so I can see why this has a place on the shelves and perhaps its length make it a good book for teenagers to study, but it was all a bit quiet for me.

I must like short stories more than you – I loved this one 🙂 Short stories are still growing on me, but I’ll get there. Glad to hear that you enjoyed this one though, even if you didn’t love it.

Amy, Novellas are a good way of weaning me onto short stories, but I always seem to prefer really long books. I guess it is a good way of getting a period of history across in a short space of time, but I’d have prefered it if the book had concentrated on just a few years in her life instead of 60+ years.

I’ve noticed that this novel seems to have been overshadowed in the media by Peirene’s other two books. I think that’s because whilst each of the other two has something that grabs the reader on a visceral level, this works its way under the skin without an obvious hook. I think the trio form a wonderful set of works, and I think it’s important within such a tightly focused niche to have the variety. Plus, this is most “my kind of book” of the three, so I’m biased. I am, it’s no secret, a card carrying, flagwaving fanboy for everything this marvellous press does.

Dan, Don’t worry – I’m still a massive fan of Peirene and will be raving about Beside the Sea at every opportunity! I agree that they work very well as a set – especially since all three books will appeal to a slightly different audience. I look forward to seeing what will come next 🙂

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