The Back Room

Carmen Martín Gaite, The Back Room
translated by Helen Lane 
(San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2000)
First published: 1978

I am awakened by the telephone ringing. I fumble about with a start and pick it up, not knowing where I’ve picked it up from, and an unknown male voice utters my first and last names in a self-assured tone of voice in which a certain irritation is quite evident. I turn on the light: ‘Yes, this is she, but what’s going on?’ And as I hear him say that he’s been knocking on the door for a long time and that now he’s telephoning me from the bar downstairs, I realize that I’m lying on the big bed and that when I turned the light on I knocked over a glass of water on the night table and the top of the sheet has gotten soaking wet. Todorov’s book, which is lying on the bedspread with some papers on top of it, has gotten all wet too.

The telephone in Carmen Martín Gaite’s The Back Room provides the means for the Man in the Black Hat to come into contact with the narrator.  He will become her interlocutor on a journey into the fantastic (the reference to literary critic Todorov, author of a book about the fantastic in literature, is not accidental) where she will meet an enormous cockroach and draw us into her world as a woman living under dictatorship in Franco’s Spain.

by Sarah Wright