Ordesa by Manuel Vilas (Translated from Spanish by Andrea Rosenberg) - review by Paul Bailey

Paul Bailey

A Puncture in Time



Canongate 291pp £16.99

In July 1969, when Manuel Vilas was almost seven, he was taken on a family holiday to the Pyrenees. ‘My father’, recalls the unnamed narrator who serves as Vilas’s alter ego in Ordesa, ‘is driving the SEAT 850 and talking about a wonderful place. He’s been talking about it since we left Barbastro. And he talked about it before we left too. The place is called Ordesa, and it’s a mountain valley.’ Forty-six years later, he takes his two young sons on a three-day trip into the mountains and tries to locate the spot, on the outskirts of the little town of Ordesa, where his father’s cherished car got a flat tyre. He remembers how he looked ‘straight ahead with my child eyes and saw the hotel rising up like a mirage … and then I saw my father’s obstinate face as he stared at the tire and opened the trunk, getting ready to change it’. With this memory comes the realisation that ‘I was conscious of my life. For the first time I was conscious that time was beginning.’

In Ordesa, Vilas is very conscious of the life that’s behind him already. The future awaiting the narrator, who gives expression to Vilas’s feelings of futility and despair, seems to be one of almost unimaginable bleakness. The book has been described as ‘auto-fiction’, in that scarcely any attempt has been

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