Last updated on November 12, 2020
Written by Barcelona native Cristina Fernández Cubas, this collection of six thrilling short stories transport you to scenes of delight, delusion and despair in the sun-kissed Catalan capital.
As I’ve written many times before, Barcelona is one of those cities where nothing is ever quite as it first appears.
It’s a modern city, but also unfathomably ancient. A culturally progressive and forward-thinking culture, but also steeped in history and immovable tradition.
And I could say the same about this psychologically-thrilling collection of Gothic short stories by local writer Cristina Fernández Cubas, which reflect the city’s duality with compelling female characters driven to distraction, delusion and outright despair.
When you know and love a city intimately, whether you live there or simply travel there as often as possible, it’s always something of a vivid and evocative experience to read stories that are set there. I loved Shadow of the Wind for the same reason, and enjoyed these chilling short stories for their strong sense of place.
I don’t think it’s something I’d be equipped to pull off myself – I may have spent quite a bit of time among her gritty streets, but unlike Cubas I can’t claim to be ‘of the city’. I have always written about Barcelona as an outsider, whereas Cubas’s perspective is purely that of a denizen.
Primarily set in Barcelona, with transportative sojourns back and forth between Madrid, Cubas yarns intimate tales of everyday Spanish life, of afternoons spent at art galleries and theatres, sun-struck cafe terraces and elegant pisos. But just as you begin to ease into the pace of things, plot twists soon creep up to topple the status quo, inevitably concluding with dark and disturbing crescendos that leave your jaw (and heart) firmly on the floor.
The lines between reality and fantasy are blurred so that you, the reader, become as disorientated as the protagonists. You are that young girl in her room, driven to distraction by a burning jealous rage, only to be snapped out of it by a life-shattering discovery.
You are that young woman down on her luck, who gets more meets an unlikely monster while trying to hustle enough money together to pay her rent before being evicted.
And you become that elderly lady who uncovers a wormhole back to happier days of her adolescence, back to the spring of a romance, to the blossom of her youth.
Like all good Gothic works, these twist-turning stories straddle the realms of reality and imagination, dragging the horrors of nightmare into the real world. But what I really enjoyed was the way each page, each character, offers a unique glimpse at what it might be like to live in the Catalan capital yourself. Not as a tourist, but as a born and bred local who’s going slowly, but surely, insane.
Nona’s Room is one of my favourite short story collections. A must-read for all Hispanophiles and short story devotees.
Buy Nona’s Room