Monday, January 1, 2018

Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles, translated by Julie Wark

English cover of Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles from Penguin Books (image from Goodreads)
Love in Lowercase
by Francesc Miralles, trans. Julie Wark
Penguin Books, 2016; original publication 2006
224 pages

I first heard about this book at the end of librarian Annie Spence's Dear Fahrenheit 451, which I could basically have read and called it work time. It's full of library shop talk, but anyone who loves books as objects would find something to enjoy about Spence's book. At the end, Spence puts together a series of reading suggestions - basically readers' advisory in book form, and I decided to try a couple of the books that she recommended.

I decided to try Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles, which has been described as a "Rosie Project-esqe" read. I wouldn't know, because I haven't read The Rosie Project, but lots of people seemed to like it, and Spence talked about how books, language, stories, and culture play a large role in Love in Lowercase, on top of it being a romance. Usually my sort of thing. Once started, though, this had more of a Paulo Coehlo-esque feeling for me, which - not my sort of thing. But there was enough to it, and it read easily enough, for me to keep going, and it's not very long.

It is a romance, but unlike my usual feelings about romance in books (which can be boiled down to "more please") I hardly cared what happened to this one. At the most it was a catalyst to get Simon, bachelor professor of German at a university in Barcelona, to get out of his comfortable routine. It was one of those insta-love (though with a small twist) things that seem so far-fetched that it stretches even my incredibly stretchy suspension of disbelief, and Gabriela doesn't quite get fleshed out enough to make sense, though - as I think about it, I suspect that's at least a little on purpose, because Simon doesn't know her at all either, despite being wildly in love with her. She puts up with it very well.

More interesting to me was Simon himself, on his own. As the book begins he's a very crabby young-ish man who has a comfortable life: he's a professor, who teaches his classes, feeds himself, occasionally goes out for a drink or a walk on his own, likes classical music and film, and generally has a very low opinion of the rest of humanity. But at the same time, he misses human connection, and he almost knows it; he spends New Year's Eve panicking about his own mortality, but he doesn't seem to realize that what's missing is relationships that mean something to him. Enter the cat.

Simon doesn't like cats, of course; he thinks they're dirty, but out of some sort of soft, human impulse, he puts a saucer of milk out for an orange tabby that shows up at his door on New Year's Day, and suddenly things start to happen. Coincidence leads to coincidence, plus Simon actually starts trying, after finding himself drawn into relationships with both his elderly upstairs neighbour and the vet who gives Mishima the cat his vaccinations. His most fascinating interactions come in the form of Valdemar, a physicist-turned-fugitive author who may or may not be experiencing a serious break from reality.

A warning for those of you who find unresolved endings frustrating: this is not the book for you. But it does leave the reader feeling like Simon's life is at least going to be quite a lot more interesting, and like he has the tools now to actually have friendships and relationships, as awkward as they're going to be while he's still learning. And by the end of the book I was glad of that; I didn't love this book, but I liked it, and enough that I can see myself picking up Miralles' book Wabi-Sabi, which also involves cats and relationships and will likely be a mildly entertaining and fast read.

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