#RivetingReviews: Robin Munby reviews HOME IS LIKE A DIFFERENT TIME by Eva Moreda

‘Bethnal Green and the City were too far from Portobello Road and from Veiga and Croydon.’ They might not make a great deal of geographical sense, but with these words, Gelo, the narrator of Home Is Like a Different Time, neatly sketches the contours of Eva Moreda’s novel. Born in the lightly fictionalised Galician village of Veiga, Gelo moves to London in his late thirties to make a new start following his wife’s death. He finds a job in Croydon, while his social life centres around a bar, ‘our bar’, on Portobello Road. In the novel, Portobello Road functions as something of a proxy for the London Galician community of the late sixties/early seventies: ‘Of all the people I knew from Portobello Road, you were the one who best spoke English.’

The ‘you’ here is Elisa, around ten years younger than Gelo, also from Veiga, and the person to whom the narrative is addressed. We watch Gelo and Elisa’s lives take very different paths, and the dynamic between them provides much of the novel’s forward momentum. Elisa, or ‘Liz’ as she comes to be known, takes quickly to the language, finds herself a job at Marks & Spencer on Oxford Street and later marries the resolutely English deputy HR manager Jim.

For Gelo, on the other hand, English is ‘an immense, dizzying language […] at times like a tide beyond control.’ Though we are left in little doubt about his feelings for Elisa, he marries Rita, another Galician from A Coruña, and a denizen of the bar on Portobello Road. And the more Gelo insists, mantra-like, that ‘Veiga is like a different time’, the more power it seems to exert over his present. Veiga is his constant referent, and the yardstick by which he measures the growing distance between him and Elisa: ‘an Elisa who was breaking away more and more from the Elisa from Veiga … at times you seemed too much like [London].’

It is possible to read Home Is Like a Different Time as an account of Gelo’s struggle to come to terms with the cultural barrier emerging between him and Elisa as she throws herself into London life. Certainly, it is partly about two people’s attempts to reckon, in their own ways, with a city, a society, that responds to their presence with a mixture of indifference and hostility.

But that’s not the whole story. When Gelo first decides to go out with Rita, he tells us, ‘I decided myself to choose the girl I least disliked’. This is indicative of a generalised apathy that pervades his time in London. This, more than any failure to adapt or integrate – whatever that might mean – seems to be the true cause of Gelo’s failure to build a fulfilling life there. When he tells us that ‘in London things matter less,’ this feels as much an admission of his own melancholy as it does a socio-cultural observation.

At times, Gelo’s gently blinkered perspective, his reluctance to engage with the world around him, makes him a frustrating conduit. Elisa, however, does plenty to pick up the slack, especially in the latter half of the novel. After divorcing her husband and leaving her job at Marks & Spencer, she moves to Bethnal Green and starts working as a night cleaner. She soon becomes involved in a unionising drive, and through this, experiences a political awakening. This, in turn, leads her to the Women’s Liberation movement. In her introduction to the English translation, Eva Moreda notes that the generation of Galician emigrants she describes in her novel have frequently been characterised as having ‘limited political and social awareness’. Elisa could not be further from this stereotype. From fighting for improved conditions for her fellow cleaners to providing women with information about, and access to, birth control, through her activism she finds not only cause, but community: ‘We are a women’s union. We are sisters.’

If Gelo’s company can be a little hard work at times, Elisa is a force of nature, she keeps the pages turning. This, despite the simultaneous scepticism/idealisation that colours Gelo’s account of her. It is not easy to render a character so vivid, so engaging, when they appear only through warped glass, and for me this is among the novel’s greatest achievements.

As its title suggests, Home Is Like a Different Time is as much about time, and our relationship to it, as anything else. While Gelo clings to the vestiges of his own past – in his vision of Elisa and of Veiga itself – Elisa sets her sights on the future. Reading this book some five decades into that future, London is once again in the midst of a wave of strikes, many in sectors – nursing, transport, higher education – employing significant numbers of immigrants. As the novel drew to a close, Elisa’s story ending on a painful note, I couldn’t help but think of the people on those picket lines, another generation of London Galicians likely among them. I only hope for them, things will turn out differently.

Reviewed by Robin Munby


by Eva Moreda 

Translated by Craig Patterson

Published by Francis Boutle Publishers (2018)

Read The Spanish Riveter here or order your paper copy from here.

Buy books from The Spanish Riveter through the European Literature Network’s The Spanish Riveter bookshop.org page.

Robin Munby is a literary translator from Liverpool, based in Madrid. His translations have appeared in publications including Wasafiri Magazine, Apofenie, Exchanges, World Literature Today and The Glasgow Review of Books. He works from Spanish, Russian and, more recently, Asturian into English.

Category: The Spanish RiveterApril 2023 – The Spanish RiveterReviewsThe Riveter


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *