Carmen Posadas is a literary superstar in Latin America, Spain and other countries in Europe. Originally a children’s author, she turned her pen to writing adult mysteries in 1980. Her second novel – Little Indiscretions – won the Planeta Prize in 1998. Since then she has sold over 1 million books and has been translated into 21 languages. With the paperback edition due to be published next month, it was high time that I read the hardback edition of Child’s Play that Alma Books kindly sent me last autumn.
Posadas, born in Uruguay, educated in Oxford and now a Spanish national, lists Daphne Du Maurier, Roald Dahl and Henry James as her literary inspirations. Elements of all three plus a splash of Conan Doyle are evident in the satiric mystery that is Child’s Play.
When author Luisa Davila enrolls her daughter at her old school, she meets up with two of her childhood friends and memories of a tragedy that involved all three begin to surface. A tragedy with uncanny similarities to the mystery that Luisa’s fictional alterego Carmen O’Inns is solving in her latest crime novel. As Luisa grapples with her novel, her vivid imagination forecasts a repetition of past events in the life of her daughter.
events have a worrying tendency to repeat or imitate themselves, as happens in Greek tragedies, where whatever horrors that occurred in the parents’ infancy get visited upon their chidren, because fate is mischievous and likes looking at itself in mirrors
It’s a book of two halves. The first related in a variety of styles gives us chapters from Luisa’s novel, her musings on the challenges of being a successful author, her worries as a parent. Her lover is not at all what I would have expected. A down-to-earthy paunchy man whose philosophy is designed to contains Luisa’s flights of psychological fancy.
the only valid theory about human behaviour is Julio Iglesias’s: all you can say about people is that sometimes they conform to type, at others not. Or as he puts it: In life, everything is sometimes yes, sometimes no, sometimes you, sometimes me.
This section also documents the friendships and rivalries that Elba, Luisa’s daughter, forms with the children of her mother’s childhood friends. It ends with the forecasted tragedy.
While the first half is written in a variety of styles, the second half switches to an exclusive first-person narrative. The narrowing of the field of vision presents events through Luisa’s subjective viewpoint and enables the reader to solve the mysteries alongside her. Actually the reader get there first, because Luisa is doing her subconscious best not to let the truth emerge.
This is a clever but sparkling read which deconstructs crime fiction while providing satisfying mysteries. The humour is at times ebony black and the pages are laced with astute psychological observation, as you would expect from a Jamesian devotee; the psychological eye trained not only on the characters, but also on author and reader. For example:
If a book draws our attention, it’s because it is telling us something we have already lived, or at least something we have already felt, because according to Nietzsche …. “Nobody can get more than they already know from a book. They lack the ears to hear what they have not deduced from their own lived experience.”
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