Another translated book – I seem to be getting quite into these. This time it’s The Scent of Lemon Leaves by Clara Sánchez, which won the Premio Nadal 2010 in Spain, and is a bestseller both there and in Italy.
Sandra is a young woman drifting aimlessly through life, attempting to come to terms with her pregnancy and the looming possibility of life as a single mother while she stays in a small town on the Costa Blanca. Julián is a former concentration camp inmate, drawn to return to Europe from Argentina by a message from an old friend.
And that’s as much as I’m going to tell you, because one of the most precious moments for me while reading this book came quite early on, when I suddenly realised quite what kind of hell had the potential to break loose, and I thought ‘how on earth is this all going to pan out?’ Sánchez keeps that feeling going, keeping the pages turning as the situation becomes muddier, more complex and more seemingly unresolvable.
If I had to criticise The Scent of Lemon Leaves at all, it would be that I was so impatient to find out how it was all going to finish that it didn’t move along fast enough for my liking. Sánchez is brilliant at characterisation, giving us a real sense of what drives both Julián and Sandra, but sometimes the process of diving into the depths of their minds slows things up some, as does some occasionally clumsy phrasing. That said, my copy of the book came with a letter from the publishers explaining that this was most definitely a first draft of the translation, and there are enough gems scattered through it already that I am very hopeful that the final draft will glitter in a way that does not allow the eye or mind to wander off the page.
If you like your fiction tense and grounded in reality, give this one a go when it’s out in English come June.