In the realm of film luminaries such as Ingmar Bergman and Carl Theodore Dreyer have tackled the theme of the male artist, or practitioner, so focussed on his art or work that effectively he is blind to emotional needs, both his own and those of the people who mean most to him in the world. Bergman himself used the term ’emotional cripples’ to describe such unfortunates.
Cósimo Herrera, the writer in Marta Rivera De La Cruz’s Twenty Years Is Nothing is cut from the same cloth. Ever near but ever so far from gaining the ultimate success any writer – or at least one of his ilk – could aspire to, he is, at the age of forty-three, in a rut. The lukewarm reaction to his most recent novel is one reason he has lost the drive of the past and is now suffering major writer’s block. <br>In a bid to recharge the batteries he accepts an invitation to take up temporary residence in the Spanish provincial town of Ribanova. Nothing much changes for Cósimo at first. His disquiet being as much personal as professional, he finds himself as isolated and lonely as ever in the all embracing quiet. More than one failed relationship has marked his life. It is, we understand, his emotional distance and obsession with obtaining the writing world’s crowning garland that has played a major part in causing them to flounder.
But he gradually adapts to the provincial locale and soon assumes the task of tutoring 20-year-old Luisa, a local girl, the promise of whose budding intelligence is not lost on anyone. Recognising in him a kindred soul, Luisa falls instantly and irredeemably in love with the big name, big city writer. But is Cósimo even aware of her passionate feelings for him, let alone able to respond to them?
The author has read her magical realism. The technique of talking about a character in the present and then in the next breath commenting on what they will be ‘many years later’ is often employed. Some may also feel a tad lost now and again in the byroads of the array of sometimes fantastical characters who populate her world, though having said that they are never less than interesting.
But none of this takes away from the fact that Twenty Years Is Nothing is a beautifully written, touching novel about missing the wood for the trees, a novel that closes on a devastating, crushingly ironical note.