If we read Jane Mackenzie’s latest novel, Autumn in Catalonia, as an attempt to create an evocative image of posguerra Spain, we will most likely emerge in bitter disappointment. Hemingway and Orwell’s significant literary works will undoubtedly taint the expectations of the reader, as they too are based on this tumultuous period. This, thereby, forces the novel to be read from a more flattering angle, avoiding such comparison. However, herein lies the problem – can such an angle be found in what can only be described as a book barely breaking above average?
Mackenzie does try to immerse the reader in a Francoist Spain, describing her protagonist, Carla, and the confrontations she has with her father, a symbol of the oppressive and secretive regime. There is a state of unease and anticipation found between Carla and her antagonistic father, along with the other relationships that blossom throughout the novel. And yet, one can’t help but feel that Mackenzie only scrapes the surface of what was a time brimming with emotional and political content. The book ends without any true reflection of the tragic consequences of civil war.
Not long after the groundwork for the plot is carefully laid down, Mackenzie begins to disassemble it with untimely and forced revelations. The family’s problems, which lie at the heard of the novel, once again leave the reader underwhelmed. With the plot unravelling rather haphazardly, it is easy to look at the twists and climaxes as a theatrical display, appropriately met with humorous interpretations.
Unfortunately, the comparisons that can be drawn between Mackenzie and Hemingway are a sad but inevitable consequence of readers who are well read in the subject. Hemingway captures perfectly the vitality of the civil war, and writes of intense relationships destined to collapse under the pressure of time. Jane Mackenzie’s novel is forced, depicting grey characters who crumble under an ill-conceived plot. Whether it is due to the lens from which it can be read, or by some fault of the writer, what can be agreed is that Autumn in Catalonia does not merit the same praise received by other novels produced depicting the Spanish Civil War. Only on the Costa del Sol will this novel be lazily enjoyed.
Autumn in Catalonia by Jane MacKenzie (Alison and Busby, 2015)
Photo credit: Pixabay