Having read Piel de Lobo by Lara Moreno last year, I was delighted to see that it was also now available in English, and even better in Katie Whittemore’s translation. Having translated the likes of Sara Mesa and Aroa Moreno Durán, it’s safe to say that Katie brings some of the best voices from contemporary Spanish literature into English. Lara Moreno is no exception.
Released in August as part of Katie’s Translator Triptych with Open Letter, Wolfskin is an exploration of motherhood, sisterhood and childhood. It is a meditation on relationships, and how what goes unspoken definitely is not forgotten.
In the opening pages of the book, we meet Sofía and her sister Rita, who have come together to clear out their recently passed father’s house. It is clear from the offset that the sisters have a somewhat fraught relationship, their personalities, appearances and ways of doing things clashing. Uptight and specific, Sofía somewhat resents her younger sister, who in her eyes is ‘lighter’, freer and livelier.
Upon Sofía’s return home, we soon realise that her sister is not the only person with whom Sofía has a fraught relationship. The dynamic between Sofía and her husband, Julio, is cold, abrupt, their marriage clearly on the rocks. After a few pages of Sofía somewhat methodically living her life – feeding her young son Leo, taking him to school, cleaning the house – it becomes clear that Julio has disappeared, leaving Sofía and Leo alone without a word. Despite the fact that Julio’s clothes have gone, and his toothbrush is missing from the bathroom, Sofía refuses to accept that he has left, inventing several stories to explain his absence. After a day or two of convincing herself he is going to return – from the gym, work, wherever she is fooling herself he is – she finally comes to the realisation that he will not, and spontaneously takes off with Leo to her father’s empty beach house. It is here that the novel’s many layers begin to form.
At the beach house Sofía lives each day in somewhat of a daze, on autopilot, yet very much in emotional turmoil. She offers brief reflections on what at first seems to be a fairly normal, unproblematic childhood and family life. Clearly struggling to come to terms with everything that is happening, Sofía is joined at the beach house by her younger sister. But Sofía is upset that Rita has turned up out of the blue to help her. Over the next few days, the resentment between the two sisters becomes more obvious, yet, as with many sibling relationships, a touch of love and care still prevails. The reason behind this strange sister relationship starts to become clearer as Sofía’s reflections on their childhood become more ambiguous, and more sinister. As the sisters live alongside each other – but not quite with each other – we learn more about their history, their childhood, and the reason they are the way they are.
Despite being based on two very distant characters, Wolfskin is an incredibly intimate novel, unflinching in its reflections on violence and trauma. As Sofía comes to terms with her present and past, Lara reflects on the effect that the ignorance of adults can have on a child, and that child’s future as an adult. An unnerving novel, it is written in unnerving prose – unnerving in the best way. And while Lara’s prose, in Katie’s translation, is absolutely beautiful, there is something ugly below its surface, much like the many unspoken things below the surface of the characters’ otherwise seemingly normal lives. Lara’s special, unusual way of writing, of saying things, makes this novel absolutely captivating, her prose perfectly capturing the simultaneous closeness and distance unique to sibling relationships.
An incredible book that I will continue to recommend to everyone I meet.
Reviewed by Alice Banks
By Lara Moreno
Translated by Katie Whittemore
Published by Open Letter (2022)
September 2022 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.
Alice Banks is a literary translator from French and Spanish into English, based in Madrid. She is currently translating Ali Zamir’s Dérangé que je suis, and also works for Fum d’Estampa Press. Alice is assistant editor at the European Literature Network.
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of I’M STAYING HERE by Marco Balzano
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of AMONG THE HEDGES by Sara Mesa
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of WAITING FOR THE WATERS TO RISE by Maryse Condé
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of WITH AN UNOPENED UMBRELLA IN THE POURING RAIN by Ludovic Bruckstein
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of OLDLADYVOICE by Elisa Victoria
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of VESPERS by Trevor Żahra
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of THE FIRST PREHISTORIC SERIAL KILLER by Teresa Solana
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of RABBIT ISLAND by Elvira Navarro
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of THE THINGS WE’VE SEEN by Agustín Fernández Mallo
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of ANDREA VÍCTRIX by Llorenç Villalonga
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of THE SILENT LETTER by Jaume Subirana
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of WE’LL CALL YOU by Jacob Sundberg
Read Alice Banks’ #RivetingReview of THE MADNESS by Narcís Oller