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Juan Marsé: Ultimas tardes con Teresa [Last Afternoons with Teresa]

This is a book about class, with Marsé (mildly) mocking the pretensions and aspirations of the working class and the affectations of the well-to-do bourgeoisie in Barcelona. The main character is Pijoaparte who seems to have multiple names. The narrator uses the name Pijoaparte but says his names is Ricardo (or Richard) Salvarrosa. However, we learn that his real name is Manolo Reyes and the other characters in the book call him Manolo. He has another nickname – The Marquis. This is because his mother, a widow, works for the Marquis of Salvatierra and there seems to be some suggestion that the Marquis is the biological father of our hero. Whatever his name, he is something of a rogue. He earns his living by stealing motorbikes (and selling them to a fence) and also by stealing from cars. Indeed, when we first met him, he casually steals a motorbike, not with the intent to keep it but merely to use it to transport him, in this case to a St John’s Day (i.e. Midsummer’s Day) party. He plans to look for girls outside the party of a rich bourgeois family but eventually gatecrashes the party. There he meets a young woman, Maruja, whom he finds attractive, and sets out to conquer her, which he does quite easily. He had noticed what he took to be her friend – Teresa – and had first been attracted to her but Teresa had gone off so he stays with Maruja. However, some young men from the house accost and ask him who he is and who invited him. He manages to bluff his way, by saying that Teresa had invited him and, it turns out, this sort of odd behaviour is expected of Teresa. Manolo makes a date with Maruja and decides to withdraw.

He does not keep the appointment. However, he will later go out with his friend and companion in crime, Bernardo Sans. They go to the beach with two young women. Bernardo is with his girlfriend, Laura, whom he will later marry, while Manolo accompanies Lola. Manolo is soon bored with Lola, as she is reluctant to indulge in the sexual activity Manolo wants, so he and Bernardo go off to fetch their motorbikes. They had lent them against a fence on private property and, in doing so, had damaged the fence. The owner is there and berates them. Manolo initially responds aggressively but then sees that the woman is with a young woman, who turns out to be Maruja. When the woman leaves, Manolo speaks to Maruja, finds out where her room is and says that, when it gets dark, he will climb in. She urges him not to do so but, of course, he does. He thinks that she is the daughter of the owner of this expensive house but, when he wakes in the morning, he sees her maid’s uniform hanging up and realises he has made a mistake (for which he blames poor Maruja). He also learns that the house is the house of Teresa Serrat.

Manolo starts an affair with Maruja but, at the same time, he sees Teresa, unaware that she and her boyfriend, Luis, are well aware of Manolo’s and Maruja’s relationship. The rest of the book tells the story of Manolo’s relationship with Maruja, his life of crime but, in particular, his relationship with Teresa. He continues to climb into Maruja’s room at night. One day, everyone seems to be away and he gets her to show him round the house. However, she seems to faint. She briefly recovers but, when they return to her room, she against seems to collapse and Manolo thinks she is dead. He immediately runs off, feeling guilty. Meanwhile, we learn of Teresa. She is at university in Barcelona, where she mixes with a left-wing crowd, which is protesting the lack of freedoms in Spain. (This is 1956 and Franco still reigns supreme.) Luis, her boyfriend, is very active and, indeed, has twice been arrested and imprisoned. However, Teresa is getting bored with him, as he only thinks about politics. When she finds Maruja, unconscious but not dead (and she knows the reason why Maruja is unconscious), it is she, Teresa, who tracks down Manolo. He denies any knowledge of Maruja, of course, but when he realises what has happened, he visits her in her sickbed regularly but, more importantly, Teresa and Manolo start a relationship. Over a long period, they gradually get to know one another and gradually are attracted to one another though, with Maruja alive but not conscious, both keep it strictly platonic. Teresa introduces him to her left-wing friends and he is brought into their violent activities. Marsé is skilled enough not to let the obvious take place.

As I said at the beginning, this novel is about class and class differences. Teresa and Manolo do get together and do fall for one another but this does not look like a perfect match. Manolo has the old-fashioned view that women are there for his use and abuse and, while that works with Maruja, it cannot with Teresa. The obvious scene that Marsé gives us is when Manolo meets her friend and they are discussing the finer points of French literature. Not only is Manolo lost, he is obviously bored and walks off. But the activities of Manolo, particularly petty crime, and the activities of Teresa and her family are worlds apart and it these two worlds that are compared and both, in their way, mocked. This novel has a good reputation in Spain and has been translated into several languages, including Korean and Romanian, but not English. While it certainly is not a bad novel and shows a fascinating side of 1950s Barcelona, I am not sure that it deserves the strong reputation it has.

Publishing history

First published in 1966 by Seix Barral
No English translation
Published in French as Teresa l’après midi by Christian Bourgois in 1993
Translated by Jean-Marie Saint-Lu
Published in German as Letzte Tage mit Teresa by Elster-Verlag in 1988
Translated by Andrea Rössler
Also published in Czech, Hungarian, Korean, Portuguese and Romanian