Home > 1940, 20th Century, Classics, Highly Recommended, Novel, Spanish Literature > 20 Books of Summer #7 : Nada by Carmen Laforêt – Twelve months in the life of a young woman

20 Books of Summer #7 : Nada by Carmen Laforêt – Twelve months in the life of a young woman

Nada by Carmen Laforêt (1944) French title: Nada. Translated by Marie-Madeleine Peignot and Mathilde Pomès. Revised by Maria Guzmán

While I’m off wandering and doing Literary Escapades, I’m still reading. This year, as part of Spanish Lit Month and 20 Books of Summer, I decided to read Nada by Carmen Laforet along with Vishy.

When Nada opens, eighteen-year old Andrea arrives to Barcelona to attend university and study literature. She’s an orphan and used to live with her cousin in the country. Now, she’s going to live with her maternal uncles, aunt and grandmother.

Her train is late and it’s night when she finally reaches the family apartment on Aribau Street. The grandmother opens the door and it’s as if Andrea falls into a horror movie: the apartment is dark, stuffed with old furniture, it’s dirty and dusty, the people living there look old, tired and menacing. The scene is striking and the reader wonders where Andrea enters. She’s led to the living-room, with her bed made on an old sofa. It’s as if she’s disturbing spiders and other creatures.

The reader knows right away that something’s not right in this household. Being poor doesn’t mean being filthy and there’s something disturbing about Andrea’s welcome.

Andrea will share the lives of her grandmother, her aunt Angustias, her uncle Roman, her uncle Juan and his wife Gloria and their baby. The grandmother is a sweet and religious old lady who would sacrifice her well-being to maintain the peace. Angustias is a righteous spinster who warns Andrea against Gloria and wants to control her life. Juan is a would-be painter who can’t accept that he has no talent. He doesn’t make enough money to support his family. Roman is a talented musician, too lazy to make a good career out of it. In any case, we’re in 1944 and Barcelona is still recovering from the Civil War.

Andrea finds herself in the middle of the unhealthy ties between the family members. Angustias wants Andrea to be her pet but you don’t catch flies with vinegar. Andrea silently resists. Roman tries to attract her with honey, but she still feels ill at ease and perceives that he’s manipulative. Gloria concentrates all the violence of the family: Angustias hates her, Juan beats her and Roman desires her and belittles her. There are undercurrent of past events between the three.

Roman is a central character in the novel. He’s charismatic and cruel. He counts on his enigmatic personality to draw people in his nets. Other people are preys.

Andrea starts going to university and befriends Ena. Their friendship is a breath of fresh air for Andrea but also the source of torments. She’s too poor to fit with Ena’s family and she feels like an outsider in her circle of bohemian friends too.

From the very first pages, the reader feels that this experience in Barcelona will be crucial in Andrea’s life and that drama is inevitable.

Nada reminded me of Hello Sadness by Françoise Sagan, probably because both have young women as main characters and both were written when their authors were very young.

Andrea also sounded like an existentialist character. Sartre’s Nausea was published in 1938 and Camus’s Outsider in 1942. Like Meursault, Andrea is a bit aloof and her friend Ena notices it. She doesn’t fit into the usual young woman mold: she doesn’t wear make up, doesn’t think about boys and getting married. She’s not even passionate about her studies.

She’s floating on the sea of her life, trying to navigate around the violent outbursts at home, staying with her friends but not belonging. She doesn’t seem committed to anything. The young men who try to seduce her can’t find a grip to climb over her personal walls. They fail and fall like inexperienced climbers in front of a smooth rock face.

Sometimes Andrea cares about others, about Ena especially but she’s mostly indifferent about her relatives. She’s invaded by an overwhelming sadness at times and a depressing vision of life. Who can blame her, considering her circumstances?

Barcelona is a character in the book too. Andrea flees from the house and spends hours wandering in the city’s streets. The architecture and the weather leave marks on her moods.

Despite her apparent apathy, Andrea is a fighter. She resists all attempts at putting her on someone’s side. She fought for leaving the country to study in Barcelona. She silently stands up to Angustias. She won’t bend and she fights for her freewill. Nobody will take her freedom of thinking and even if in appearance, she doesn’t make a fuss about anything, her mind is her own.

Is this silent resistance the author’s vision of how to resist the Franco dictatorship? Staying safe and keeping one’s freewill must have been a challenge back then. Times must have been tough in Barcelona, a former bastion of the Republicans. Nada stays away from political issues and doesn’t delve on the war years but it’s underlying.

In the end, Nada tells twelve months in the life of a young woman and sounds like an existentialist coming-of-age novel.

Highly recommended.

Other reviews by Caroline and Jacqui.

Update: And reviews by RichardSusana and Claire

 

 

 

  1. July 31, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    Fond memories of reading this too. Wonderful review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 31, 2020 at 9:16 pm

      Thanks and it’s truly an outstanding book. It’ll stay with me, I think.

      Like

  2. July 31, 2020 at 6:19 pm

    I’m really glad you liked this. That opening is very striking, isn’t it? Almost Gothic in atmosphere and tone.

    Like

    • July 31, 2020 at 9:16 pm

      Yes, the opening is like entering into a haunted castle. Very striking.

      Like

  3. July 31, 2020 at 6:59 pm

    This sounds so good. Great review, not a novel I had heard of before.

    Like

    • July 31, 2020 at 9:15 pm

      I hope you’ll read it, it deserves to be better known. This is a book I discovered on someone’s blog. (Caroline’s I think)

      Like

  4. July 31, 2020 at 8:01 pm

    Does sound very dark and rather good – will keep an eye out for it!

    Like

    • July 31, 2020 at 9:14 pm

      It’s excellent, really. I think you’ll like it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. July 31, 2020 at 11:09 pm

    Great review! I read this book around two years ago and really liked it as well. I’ve been meaning to read something else by Carmen Laforet ever since!

    Like

    • August 3, 2020 at 8:33 am

      Thanks. I’ll add yours at the end of mine, it’s always nice to have several sources about a book.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. August 2, 2020 at 9:54 am

    Thank you for the link, Emma. I’m very glad you liked it too. It’s so special.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Vishy
    August 2, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    Beautiful review, Emma! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I loved what you said about silent resistance. I got into a reading slump and it has been going on for two weeks now and so I have not been able to finish the book yet. Will try to finish it soon and share my thoughts. Thanks so much for doing this readalong with me 🙂

    Like

    • August 3, 2020 at 8:51 am

      No worries, Vishy.
      Reading and blogging are hobbies, no pressure. It needs to stay that way.
      We’ll discuss Nada when you’ve finished reading it.

      Like

      • Vishy
        August 3, 2020 at 7:59 pm

        Thank you, Emma 🙂 Looking forward to discussing with you soon.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Vishy
        August 12, 2020 at 2:14 pm

        Came back and read your review again, Emma 🙂 I liked what you said about how Nada is an existentialist novel. That made me think. Thanks for mentioning Françoise Sagan’s Hello Sadness. I want to read that. I liked the scene where Roman plays the violin for Andrea. It was such a beautiful scene. Sadly, Roman didn’t turn out to be a likeable character. Thanks so much for suggesting this readalong. I loved it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

        Like

        • August 14, 2020 at 10:09 pm

          I agree about this scene between Roman and Andrea when he plays music. And the violin is such a special instrument too.
          He was really a toxic character.

          Like

          • Vishy
            August 15, 2020 at 2:25 pm

            Glad you liked that scene too, Emma. Yes, he was a really toxic character. I was hoping initially, that by magic we’ll learn some secret and he will turn out to be a good person, the way J.K.Rowling does to Severus Snape, but it was not to be. Roman was really a toxic character.

            Like

            • August 16, 2020 at 9:44 pm

              We always expect people to get better with time but we need to accept that there are toxic people out there. Roman always knows which buttons to push to rile someone up. Being able to read people that well is a gift, too bad it was ill-employed.

              Like

  8. August 2, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    I like the sounds of this one.

    Like

    • August 3, 2020 at 8:52 am

      I think you’d like it and I’d like to discuss it with you.

      Like

  9. August 3, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    I love how Barcelona is a character, too! I am wary, though, of this book resembling Bonjour, Tristesse…those young girls, even like Briony in Atonement, make me want to slap them somehow. 😌

    Like

    • August 3, 2020 at 8:47 pm

      Andrea is as tough as she needs to be, otherwise her relatives would eat her alive.

      I imagine that contemporary readers picked up details regarding the war, the post-war Barcelona and the undercurrent between Andrea’s family members that I missed.

      Like

  10. August 4, 2020 at 4:40 am

    Glad you chose to read this and ended up enjoying it, Emma! I think Andrea’s a great character–love her narrative voice. I still haven’t read the Sagan novel you compared it to, but that sounds like good company for both novels to be in as Nada is one of the canonical novels in contemporary Spanish peninsular literature. Anyway, here’s my old review if you’d like to compare notes/reactions:

    http://caravanaderecuerdos.blogspot.com/2011/03/nada.html

    Cheers!

    Like

    • August 5, 2020 at 7:41 am

      Thanks for the link and I fully agree with what you wrote.

      Andrea and Cécile live very different lives but are the same age and find themselves in the world of adults without being prepared. Andrea is more in observation than in action, contrary to Cécile. Andrea has the wisdom to stay our of people’s affairs while Cécile doesn’t.
      Both are too young to understand the interactions of the adults around them, until it is too late.

      I kept thinking about Sagan while I was reading, probably because of the underlying sadness in Andrea’s tone.

      Like

  1. August 4, 2020 at 8:03 pm
  2. August 11, 2020 at 10:02 pm

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