#RivetingReviews: Rosie Eyre reviews EASY READING by Cristina Morales

Since storming onto the Andalusian literary scene two decades ago, Cristina Morales has sealed a nationwide reputation as a writer who isn’t afraid to rattle the status quo. Easy Reading, her uproarious fourth novel and the first to be translated into English, is no exception. Originally published in 2018, the book follows four small-town cousins – Àngels, Patri, Marga and Nati – who, after being certified as ‘intellectually disabled’ in their teens and twenties and spending their adult lives being funnelled through the Spanish residential care system, have acquired what appears to be a sliver of freedom in the form of a supervised flat on the Barcelona beachfront. 

Essentially, the cousins fall into two camps. In one corner, Àngels and Patri are fighting tooth and nail to keep the flat by bowing to the various edicts of the Generalitiat’s ‘independent-living’ infrastructure. These run the gamut of jargon-laden bureaucratic hoops, from weekly ‘self-advocacy’ meetings and compulsory ‘recreational activities’ geared towards promoting ‘involvement in community life’, to ad hoc inspections by the cousins’ caseworker and the flat director to ensure they are meeting their ‘integration, normalisation and independent-lifestyle targets’. The latter also reports to the Catalan government on every cent of spending from the women’s monthly disability benefits. 

Meanwhile, in the opposite corner, Marga is waging a stealthy yet equally fierce battle to decamp to her own squat with the help of an anarchist social centre, and Nati is very loudly at war with the apparatus of the ‘disability-support’ bureaucracy and society at large.

The fundamental tension fuelling the divide is one of perspective. Àngels and Patri, having been reared and (in the case of Patri) doped into submission in institutions for the ‘intellectually disabled’, have internalised a system that ostracises them and brands them as deficient, then perversely hails their acquiescence to this view of themselves as the first step towards their ‘integration’ and ‘normalisation’. As Patri notes, the cousins’ right to stay in the flat hinges on the ‘ability to adjust our expectations to our real capacities’. Enablement, then, when sought through the official channels, comes with a paradoxical ceiling attached.

In their different ways, Nati and Marga challenge this path. Rather than being pitifully grateful that the state has granted them a modicum of autonomy through the switch from residential care to supported living, they resent the continued imposition on their lives. If Àngels and Patri’s focus is on the ‘flat’ – which, as Nati bluntly notes, the pair would ‘eat dick in order to keep’ – Nati and Marga’s is on the ‘supervised’. Both want to live independently as passionately as their cousins do, but they want to do so on their own terms. For Marga, this includes the right to sleep with who she wants, without running the gauntlet of state-decreed sterilisation for any sexual initiative she takes. For Nati, it means the right to think what she wants, even if it contravenes the confines of conformity.

The four-pronged narrative that Morales weaves from the cousins’ respective standpoints is very, often outrageously, funny, but its underpinnings and implications are serious. In the author’s words, her aim was ‘a questioning of the notion of disability’ – a notion which, in the book, is deconstructed to become synonymous with each woman’s degree of compliance with the structures and strictures that govern their lives. It’s no accident that Nati, officially classed ‘the most disabled’, is also the most outspoken critic of the state-backed status quo. 

Morales raises more questions than the book resolves, but her decision to have the women telling their own stories provides a forceful restoration of the agency that the system has wrested from them. By casting them as three-dimensional narrators, who express themselves with all the idiosyncrasies and complexities that the ‘easy read’ format usually reserved for the ‘intellectually disabled’ denies, the disjunction between how they are and how they have been labelled becomes flagrant, and it’s hard not to conclude that the problem lies with the label itself.

Serious plaudits must go to the translator. This can’t have been easy translating, but Kevin Gerry Dunn has made it look effortless. The result is a thought- and laughter-provoking triumph.

Reviewed by Rosie Eyre


By Cristina morales

Translated by Kevin Gerry Dunn

Published by Jonathan Cape (2022)

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Rosie Eyre is a literary translator working from French and Spanish. Her most recent translation is Julie
Survivor. Her translation of Guillaume Musso’s The Stranger in the Seine is forthcoming with Orion Books. She has been collaborating with the European Literature Network since 2020 and coordinates the Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation.

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Category: The Spanish RiveterApril 2023 – The Spanish RiveterReviews


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