Posts Tagged ‘oldladyvoice’

Oldladyvoice

May 16, 2022

Spanish writer Elisa Victoria’s debut novel, Oldladyvoice, originally published in 2019 and translated into English by Charlotte Whittle last year, is very much a novel of the nineties. This can be seen in the culture absorbed by its nine-year-old narrator, Marina, such as Sailor Moon and Saved by the Bell, and in historical details which filter through into her world like her family’s support of socialist Felipe Gonzalez, who won his third and fourth elections in 1989 and 1993, and perhaps even in her Minnie Mouse pinafore (my knowledge of fashion is not extensive enough to be sure). Marina is, therefore, one of the last generations to live through their childhood without the interference of the internet – though this certainly does not mean she is innocent.

Marina lives with her mother (also Marina) and her mother’s boyfriend, Domingo. Her mother is ill with an unspecified disease and is admitted to hospital more than once in the course of the novel:

“I’ve got more problems than a Maths textbook as usual. But listen, as long as I last, we’ll try and live a normal life alright?”

Time with her mother is therefore rare – she probably speaks to Domingo more frequently, and certainly spends more time with her grandmother, where she stays when her mother is unable to look after her. Her relationship with her mother is a close one – she takes time out of every day to massage her – but she still applies the same world-weary view to it that characterises her approach to life:

“It’s like this in every home: parents love their children because we are small copies of them and they find this mysteriously meaningful.”

This amused cynicism comes, in part, from her exposure to Domingo, whom she finds “more like an older brother with a job than a dad.” One early conversation involves a contract in which he promises to support her until she is an adult at which point she must support him:

“He was offering me the loan with the highest interest in history.”

The adult she is closest to is her grandmother – physically close on numerous occasions, talking to her when she is on the toilet and cutting her toenails. She calls Marina “a real smarty-pants” but, while Her granddaughter is clearly intelligent, she is far from being a precociously irritating child narrator. She has the same anxieties as any child, worrying about fitting in and making friends, particularly as she moves both house and school more than once in what feels like a single year:

“Life’s challenges don’t scare me as much as people do.”

There are awkward moments – for example when the post-it she leaves for a neighbour keeps being pulled off the door and discarded on the ground – but Victoria also highlights the pleasures of a new friendship. When she moves into an apartment with a shared pool, she meets a girl a year older:

“…she teaches me to dive down and swim between her legs, something I’d never have dared to do without some cheerful command.”

In fact, one of the pleasures of the novel is the way in which Marina often takes delight at the simplest things. One of these is the exploration of her awakening sexuality, much of it done via comics which Domingo brings into the house and Marina locates. This balance between sexual curiosity and innocence is best illustrated when she takes “a book with tits in it” into school. The ‘tits’ are on pictures of mermaids, but the children are so convinced by the lifelike drawing they end up arguing about whether it is proof mermaids exist. Elsewhere Marina acts out sexual encounters with her dolls, and also examines herself in the mirror:

“I drop my panties, open my legs, part the flaps with both hands and muffle a giggle. Sometimes this simple act gives me a real boost.”

She longs for her first kiss, but, in reality, she is physically shy. Her interest in sex is partly a result of how out of reach it feels, but also just one example of her desire to fit in:

“Is there something wrong with my head? Can it be cured?”

Despite these anxieties, Oldladyvoice is generally a joyful book, where relationships triumph over circumstances, and the foibles of the adults are tolerated by the child. It’s not so much about growing up as it is about simply being.