The first adjective that comes to mind to describe Cabaleiro’s debut novel, or at least its anti-heroine protagonist, Mona Otero, is bitter. And Mona has plenty to be bitter about, as someone who left her tiny town in Galicia with grand artistic and professional hopes only to see them dashed by the ongoing job- and life-precarity caused by the 2008 economic crisis. Cabaleiro infuses the close-third-person narration with a wicked, caustic sense of humour so we can’t help but be taken with Mona even as she flails spectacularly, losing her driver’s licence, her husband, and in some cases her dignity. That lack of a driver’s licence also gives The Ramonas its simple, effective structure: each chapter finds Mona shuttling between her rural hometown of Saídres and Galicia’s capital over the course of a couple years, as she tries to claw her way out of the wedding photography circuit and back to artistic relevance. Underlying it all is a one-of-a-kind vision of rural Galicia that effortlessly counters the popular notion of ‘empty Spain’.
My husband is sleeping with this hopeless airhead, Mona Otero finds herself thinking again. It’s the third, or maybe fourth time she’s thought it since she got into the car, and she’s already feeling exasperated because they’ve been on the road for maybe all of three minutes. They’ve only made it as far as the chicken coop crossroads, which is called that despite the fact it’s not actually a crossroads, nor is there a chicken coop anywhere in sight – nothing but the Novos family’s hatchery, which has been a part of the area’s historical landscape for as long as Mona can remember. Still, this intersection is more than a simple junction between one road and another, and has always acted as the boundary line for Saídres, Mona’s home parish, the point of the departure between Saídres and everywhere else, whether that else is one of the bigger towns right off the highway, like Silleda or Lalín, or a city like Pontevedra or Santiago de Compostela, which you always have to venture to at one point or another, whether for a trip to the shops, to the doctor, or to obtain anofficial document. And there’s that thought again, the thought about this woman falling for her husband. She’s already had the thought several times since she stepped into the car, not to mention the twenty or thirty times it crossed her mind during the wedding on Saturday. Every time it pops into her head, she thinks about how it’s just her fucking luck she has to share a car with this idiotic chatterbox.
But it’s not Saturday now; it’s Monday, and Mona Otero’s body is in an absolute Monday slump, soured and heavy. And to make matters worse, after being wrecked by a weekend so bad it felt like a never-ending succession of nightmares, she’s now stuck in a car with the very woman she’s positive is her husband’s lover. But Mona smiles. She’s not going to be the loser here. Nope, they’ve been married fifteen years, and she hasn’t lost a battle yet.
‘By the way, I was so happy to see they’d hired you for Saturday. You’re the only photographer I know who can make anyone look pretty.’
Ra Meixide, Mona’s driver, and the lover to her husband, chooses to strike up the conversation by bringing up the most horrid part of the wedding. Because if there’s one thing that kills Mona Otero’s professional spirit, it’s the godforsaken phrase, ‘Make me look the prettiest!’ Ra is perfectly aware of that; it’s what caused their spat on Saturday. But Mona can’t tell if she’s poking the wound out of boldness, or because she has the memory of a goldfish.
‘It was kind of the same for you, right? On the one hand, we had to work, but on the other, we were also invited as guests, and it’s just impossible to do both. You spend so much time focusing on work that you end up having no fun. Am I right?’
Ra seems eager to talk about the wedding. Too fucking eager, Mona thinks, and she starts to worry in spite of herself. She has no choice but to play Ra’s game.
‘It was your first wedding, right? I mean, you haven’t been a minister for very long…’
‘Yes, yes! It was so exciting, you know, because they specifically asked for me, too!’
Mona feels a stab of pity as she listens. More than just an airhead, Ra Meixide strikes her as a dyed-in-the-wool narcissist. Mona can tell that the brand-spanking-new Minister of Tourism and Civic Engagement is rehearsing her pose as the humble politician always out to remind us she’s still one of the common people. Look at her now: putting her personal car at the services of others – at Mona’s service, in this case – by signing up to provide rideshares through Blablacar. She’s a politician of her time, the kind who will make proper use of public funds, who will contribute to environmental conservation efforts, and blah, blah, blah, what an angel! Mona has met so many like her.
Unfortunately, they’ve only gotten as far as the shortcut that crosses the Negreiros parish out towards National Highway 525, just before the straightaway that takes you past the Rolán Auto Warehouse. To think she’ll be in this car for at least another forty kilometres …
By Ana Cabaleiro
Translated by Jacob Rogers
From LAS RAMONAS
by Ana Cabaleiro
Translated and introduced by Jacob Rogers
Published by Editorial Galaxia (2018)
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Ana Cabaleiro is a Galician journalist and writer. In 2017 she published her first book, Sapos e sereas, through which she draws attention to the absurdity of gender stereotypes. In 2018 she won the Premio García Barros for her novel, Las Ramonas.
Jacob Rogers is a translator of Galician and Spanish. His translation of Manuel Rivas’s The Last Days of
Terranova was published by Archipelago Books in autumn 2022, and his translation of Berta Dávila’s Loved Ones is forthcoming from 3TimesRebel Press in late 2023.