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Héctor Aguilar Camín: El error de la luna [The Moon’s Mistake]

Our heroine is Leonor Gonzalbo, who is nineteen years old. According to her grandmother, her family is cursed, and this curse passes down the female line. The history of this strange curse is tracked back through several generations, but it is the generation before hers that most interests Leonor. Her grandmother, Filisola (= only daughter) and her husband Ramón had four daughters and no sons. The oldest daughter was Leonor’s mother. She and her husband were recently killed in a car crash. Leonor has learned that her parents had fallen out with her grandmother but she does not know why and cannot get an explanation from anyone.

One of the other sisters has also died – Mariana. Of the two remaining sisters, one is Cordelia, who is a singer and the other is Natalia who lives with her parents and talks to birds. However, from the beginning of the book it is Mariana who obsesses Leonor. Firstly, there is a large portrait of Mariana in the house that Leonor feels attracted to and, indeed, talks to. Secondly, it seems that Leonor looks very much like Mariana, particularly when she combs her hair in a certain way and puts on make-up. Thirdly, no-one will tell her how and why Mariana died. Finally, clearly something happened to Mariana – perhaps part of the curse – that no-one will talk about. Leonor sees that it is her job to find out this information.

Much of the book concerns her investigation of Mariana. She tries to get information from her grandparents but they are clearly reluctant to talk about it. It seems there is some man – Lucas Carrasco – who is to blame and who is not to be mentioned. Leonor works out that Mariana had or was having an affair with this man and that, somehow, he was implicated in her death. She also speaks to her aunts who are a bit more willing to talk but either do not know or will not tell the full story. She tracks down some friends of Mariana and a man with whom Mariana worked on a bibliography on the native population, Angel Romero. In his dedication to the bibliography he had referred to Mariana as someone whom nobody knows but everyone wants to.

She tries to track down Lucas Carrasco but he is a total recluse, producing privately subscribed publications and seeing and talking to only a select few. Inevitably, she does track him down and gets his side of the story. It is also perhaps not surprising that everyone she does talk to gives a different version of what happened and why, both as regards Mariana’s relationships and her death. She is also trying to find out why her parents broke off with her grandparents and whether this was linked to Mariana’s story or for some other reason.

Leonor also has her own life and, indeed, seems set on going down the traditional path of the female members of her family, with a complicated and difficult relationship. Her main relationship is with Rafael, who clearly loves her but, at the same time, the pair seem to argue the whole time and Leonor does not seem to be totally committed to him. Things get worse when she meets Lucas and also falls for him.

Her grandparents have had their own problems, not least when Ramón himself had an affair, which resulted in a child. Her grandfather now seems to take a back seat, while it is her grandmother who urges Leonor not to be like Mariana. Leonor’s investigations inevitably lead into conflict with her grandparents who want to keep the family secrets buried and cannot see any good coming out of Leonor’s research. However, Leonor feels that she has a kinship with Mariana and she is determined to find the truth. She seems to share her Aunt Cordelia’s point of view that men are stupid but somehow indispensable, at least as far as the Gonzalbo women are concerned.

As well as dealing with the issue of a family curse, the book is also concerned with what we could either call the unreliable narrator, in that most of the people are trying to conceal the truth or, alternatively, the idea that there is no one truth but a whole range of various perceptions, some of which are true, depending on your perspective. Of course, in this case, there is a truth, both as regards how and why Mariana really died, though this is not known by all the people involved, as well as the nature of Marianas’s relationship with Lucas, also not known to everyone. Did she die of an embolism, a broken heart or something else? Was her relationship with Lucas a cause or not? And was she a victim of her era which, according to Angel Romero, expected unmarried women of Mariana’s generation to sleep around or be accused of being frigid and conservative?

Much of what happened between Lucas and Mariana is explained in a novel Lucas subsequently wrote in which the moon (as mentioned in the title) is key as a symbol of fate, both good and bad. However, this novel, which Leonor gets hold and of which we read extracts, can also be considered an unreliable narrator, not least because Lucas admits that it is not all true.

The idea of varying realities, seen from different points of view, some possibly reliable, some not, is not a new idea in literature and nor is the family curse. However, Camín handles it very well as, like Leonor, we are continually getting a new explanation as to what happened and who is telling the truth, the half-truth or no truth. Interestingly, after we more or less know what happened and why, we continue the story of Leonor, as she follows in the footsteps of her female ancestors and makes something of a mess of her relationships

Publishing history

First published by Alfaguara in 1995
No English translation
First published in German as Der Irrtum des Mondes by Ullstein in 1998