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Sunday, November 6, 2011

"The Time In Between" By Maria Duenas (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Maria Duenas Website
Order The Time in Between HERE

INTRODUCTION: Maria Duenas holds a PhD in English Philology and is currently a professor at the University of Murcia. She has also taught at American universities, is the author of several academic articles, and has participated in various educational, cultural, and editorial projects. After her immensely successful novelistic debut in 2009 in Spain with El Tiempo entre Costuras translated this year as The Time in Between, she is currently working on her second novel.

"Between Youth and Adulthood . . .

At age twelve, Sira Quiroga sweeps the atelier floors where her single mother works as a seamstress. At fourteen, she quietly begins her own apprenticeship. By her early twenties she has learned the ropes of the business and is engaged to a modest government clerk. But everything changes when two charismatic men burst unexpectedly into her neatly mapped-out life: an attractive salesman and the father she never knew"

The Time in Between has been translated by Miguel Saenz.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: A huge bestseller in Europe, The Time in Between intrigued me quite a lot when I read its blurb and the praise offered to it in various places. I asked for and was lucky to get an e-arc from the publishers and on opening the novel I was swept by its voice and narrative flow, so despite what turned into a somewhat rough first 50 pages, I kept turning the pages...

"A typewriter shattered my destiny. The culprit was a Hispano-Olivetti, and for weeks, a store window kept it from me. Looking back now, from the vantage point of the years gone by, it’s hard to believe a simple mechanical object could have the power to divert the course of an entire life in just four short days, to pulverize the intricate plans on which it was built. And yet that is how it was, and there was nothing I could have done to stop it."

The Time in Between is a first person narration from Sira Quiroga who is raised by her single seamstress mother in the Madrid of the 20's and 30's. After the opening paragraph above that hooked me on the style, the novel slows down for a while - one thing I cannot abide is silly narrators and for the first 40-50 pages Sira makes some really dumb decisions that one can see for a mile that are dumb in an obvious manner, so while the actions of the heroine are understandable somewhat as due to lack of maturity, etc, they are presented in the novel in quite an annoying fashion. However once we get past the "we've seen it coming, now let's get on with the real story" moment, The Time in Between gets its footing and it never looks back

The Time in Between flows so well that despite its 600+ page length I was shocked to see the novel ending and I could have read another 600 pages easily; actually the ending is good and satisfying to a large extent but the book could have gone on for a while more for sure. Maria Duenas definitely knows how to spin a story and I would say that she proved here to be one of those natural born storytellers whom the audience can listen to for a long time...

The other main strength of the novel beside the voice and the narrative flow, is the world building; or if you want the recreation of the atmosphere of the Spanish Marocco and later Madrid in the turbulent years from 1936 to the 1940's. Filled with expatriates, intrigue, even decadence but also with poverty and anger, the main cities of Tangier and Tetouan where the action takes place in the first part of the novel come fully to life and we see quite a few facets as Sira's fate twists and turns. This part is exceptional once we pass the first 50 pages.

Later when the action moves back to the Iberian mainland and to a Madrid devastated by the civil war and sullenly hunkering down under the new order, the atmosphere becomes bleaker but the optimistic voice of Sira never falters.

As slight negatives, The Time in Between is more detached and tension-less than I expected; it has its emotional moments for sure, but fewer than I would have liked. While Sira is a very strong character and the novel is her story after all, the secondary characters wax and wane through it with pages where indeed there appear others who are quite impressive, but also pages where only Sira seems real.

Overall The Time in Between (A+, highly recommended as an example of superb storytelling ability) is a page turner but a lighter novel than I expected based on its blurb and advanced word, so an excellent read but not a blow me away one like say last year's The Invisible Bridge.

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