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Tuesday, 04 August 2009

A Boat-full of Rice by Alicia Gimenez Bartlett

Rivages/Noir. 10.50 euros)

Translated by Jamie Andrews

Un bateau plein de rizSuch a mysterious title for this latest case (the sixth) to be investigated by Inspector Petra Delicado, who works for Barcelona’s criminal squad. She’s still working with her inseparable deputy, Firmin Garzon, and together they form an unusual pair: ‘Having Garzon by my side was like having a husband, a father, a grand-father, but also a young child. Dealing with that kind of relative was like walking on egg-shells.’

 One morning, the body of a homeless man, who seems to have been beaten to death, is discovered in a park. Suspicion falls at once on the gangs of skin-heads who hang around the area, an outcome that suits everyone: the press, the residents, and the irascible Commissioner Corona. Everyone, that is, except Petra, who is moved by the indifference shown to such a lonely, miserable end, and senses something bigger behind it. The discovery of a second body only confirms this suspicion…and her pig-headedness.

For Petra is a formidably lucid woman, which she combines with an exceptionally sensitive nature. After two failed marriages, she lives alone, and is well-suited to solitude: ‘Love is synonymous with living together, and consists of sharing the fridge and bad moods.’ Yet her small world, the microcosm of the police station, is enriched by the presence of the beautiful Yolanda, a charming and refined young ‘cop-ette’. And then there’s Ricard, the slightly crazy young psychologist to whom she can’t fail to respond. For Petra will admit that men are ‘the most fascinating creatures in the world, after the hummingbird.’ To fall or not to fall in love?  She falls, at the same time trying to maintain her distance. ‘The day that I’m jealous of you, Ricard, I’d prefer to be skinned alive than admit it.’ Yet their love is so fine, and so strong. We get some torrid erotic scenes, and the ensuing bliss: ‘this mischievous, fantastic game we call screwing- the ultimate fuck you to melancholy and death.’

Comical scenes follow one another without impinging on the novel’s rhythm, such as a dinner with the gay son of Firmin, which is a joy. How must it be for a Spanish father - rather macho, and to top it all a cop - whose son wears an ear-ring and kisses a man full on the mouth! Naturally, these scenes conjure up Woody Allen, as does an observation that Petra makes to herself after having messed up: ‘So there we are, I had made all the possible cock-ups you could imagine: insulting a poor old crazy type because of my bad mood; losing my head over a bloke I hardly know; and not helping a colleague who’s bogged down with personal problems. Perfect. What’s left to do? Kick a dog, slap an old lady, spit on a baby?’
Lucid- now and forever; even when it comes to violence. ‘I liked it, beating him up,’ she admits, after a somewhat rough interrogation of a suspect.

A comedy of manners, and a bitter social critique. With A Boat-full of Rice, Alicia Gimenez Bartlett  - through her character Petra Delicado -  delivers a brutally clear-sighted vision of life around her, as well as her best novel.

Last Updated ( Monday, 18 January 2010 )
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