Spanish author Merce Rodoreda’s In Diamond Square has been heralded ‘one of the masterpieces of modern European literature’ by the Independent, and novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez believed it to be ‘the most beautiful novel published in Spain since the Civil War’. In Diamond Square was published in its original Catalan in 1962, and appeared in English for the first time last year. It has been translated into over twenty languages in the last four decades.
In this new Virago reprint, Rodoreda herself has written her own prologue to the volume, in which she speaks about the unprecedented success of her book. Throughout, she is rather reluctant to detail her writing and life: ‘I have never been very enthusiastic about writing prologues, or speaking about myself (or my work, which amounts to the same thing)’. She goes on to say that her intention for In Diamond Square was for it to be ‘Kafkaesque, very Kafkaesque – with lots of pigeons. I wanted the pigeons to overwhelm the protagonist from start to finish.’
At the outset of the novel, our protagonist, Natalia, is living alone: ‘My mother died years ago and wasn’t there to give me advice, and my father had remarried. He found a second wife and I’d lost a mother who only lived to look after me’. Her adulthood story begins in the early 1930s, as soon as she is asked to dance by a stranger on Diamond Square. The relationship built between Natalia and Joe, the stranger, borders on the psychological at all times, and Rodoreda builds foreboding for the couple almost from the very beginning of their first meeting.
Joe immediately proposes the idea of marriage and a flattered Natalia agrees, despite the fact that she is already engaged to a nice boy. Natalia’s breathless stream of consciousness style within the prose is stunning, and it works so well with the story, particularly during those episodes of cruelty which can be found throughout – for example, ‘He tapped my knee with the side of his hand and he hit me so sharply my leg shot into the air and he said if I wanted to be his wife I’d have to start liking every single thing he liked’. Her naivety contrasts well with his possessiveness. She grows accordingly as the novel continues, and the dawning of the Spanish Civil War begins to alter everything which she has come to know.
Rodoreda’s descriptions are vivid: ‘I was eyeball to eyeball with his sparkling monkey eyes and little medal-like ears’, Natalia writes of Joe, for example. One gets the impression that Natalia is a very honest protagonist, and there seems to be nothing which she is willing to relate. The way in which Rodoreda has not baldly stated anything, but has instead left many details up to her readers, is admirable. The repeated details throughout Natalia’s monologue make the whole more and more heartfelt. In Diamond Square presents such a vivid evocation of rather an unusual life, and it is sure to be remembered for months after the final page has been read.