Matt Rowland Hill

Tongue Twister

Berta Isla

By

Hamish Hamilton 531pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

What is the cost of keeping a secret from someone you love? In Berta Isla, a novel by the celebrated Spanish author Javier Marías, a couple’s minor disloyalties – which they justify as mere ‘parentheses’ or emergency measures in their relationship – breed further betrayals until they find their lives ‘swathed in mist and mystery’. When does an extended parenthesis overwhelm the sentence in which it occurs? How long can you lead a parallel life before it supplants your real one? At what point does a state of emergency become, simply, the law? These questions all bear upon the action of this guileful and beguiling tale. Like its characters, Berta Isla is a shape-shifter: part spy thriller, part murder mystery, part cerebral caper with echoes of Melville, T S Eliot and Henry V. It is also a trans-European historical novel, set between Oxford and Madrid in the 1970s and 1980s, with a hinterland that includes the campaigns of ETA and the IRA, the fall of Franco, the rise of Thatcher and the Falklands War.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Jane Ridley writes on Who’s In, Who’s Out: The Journals of Kenneth Rose, edited by D R Thorpe ,
    • 'Lucian Freud was never short of confidence. In the 1990s he painted a small head of an especially rich individual… ,
    • Robin Simon's review of Lucian Freud, edited by Martin Gayford and David Dawson ,
    • 'Lenin regularly communicated with his agents in Russia by postcard and Stalin sent girlfriends cards depicting ero… ,
    • RT : Could any book publishing people share with me their route into publishing roles for a sixth former I am working wi… ,
    • Donald Rayfield reviews Greetings From the Barricades: Revolutionary Postcards in Imperial Russia by Tobie Maythew ,
    • 'Citadel of the Saxons manages to turn the slim pickings of the surviving evidence into something like a consistent… ,