The Estancia by Martín Cullen - review by Jonathan Keates

Jonathan Keates

Plain Speaking

The Estancia

By

Adelphi 399pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

This book is a nonesuch, a hybrid, the literary equivalent of ‘neither fish nor flesh nor good red herring’, and it’s all the better for that. We can engage with Martín Cullen’s The Estancia as a straightforward childhood memoir or as the kind of fiction which harnesses a traditional genre to produce a dreamlike elaboration on a more prosaic original. Although many of its episodes, characters and interchanges may remind us of other writers – the author is evidently a Proustian by conviction, but there’s also a pronounced flavour of Lampedusa’s The Leopard in Cullen’s strategic deployment of detail – the work achieves its own stylistic individuality in creating an echo chamber for a vanished world.

Few of The Estancia’s British readers will have more than a nodding acquaintance with 1950s Argentina, where the author grew up. But by the end of the book we have become intimates of a society whose continuing alienness is deliciously unsettling. The planet on which Cullen lands us is that

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter