Milena Busquets: También esto pasará (This Too Shall Pass)
Milena Busquets is the daughter of Esther Tusquets, a distinguished author and publisher who is sadly little-known in the English-speaking world. Tusquets died in 2012. Her daughter, who was also a publisher and had written one novel, has now written a novelisation of her relationship with her mother, her mother’s death and life at the age of forty. If you read Spanish, you can read an interview with, Busquets about how she came to write the novel. Incidentally, she is not the only to write a novel about her relationship with Tusquets. Tusquets’ sister-in-law, Eva Blanch, also wrote a novel on the subject (link in Spanish).
Busquets’ novel is a lively and fascinating novel about her alter ago, Blanca, Blanca’s grief at her mother’s death, but also about her not always easy relationship with her mother and her about her somewhat chaotic personal and romantic life. The novel starts with the mother’s funeral. Blanca is naturally in something of a state. She is just forty and cannot really adjust to that. She is struggling with feelings of guilt about her at times difficult relationship with her mother, particularly towards the end. The funeral is held in almost complete silence – at her mother’s request, no readings, no speeches, no poems. Her friends are there. Her two ex-husbands are there as are her two sons (one by each husband). Her current lover is not there. There is also a strange, good-looking man there, whom she has never seen before. Who is he and why is there?
She has and has always had an ambiguous relationship with her two ex-husbands. To the best of my knowledge, the only thing that momentarily alleviates the sting of death—and life—without leaving a hangover is sex and sex with Oscar, ex-husband number one is one of the ways in which she copes but Yes, we do love each other a lot. But we can’t stand each other. The fact that she has a lover and so does he seems to be irrelevant. Meanwhile, ex-husband number two, Guillem (an archaeologist, a drinker, he’s cultivated, caring, and intelligent, a Catalan through and through, considerate, a cheat, strong, cagey, generous, a lot of fun, and very stubborn. His motto is “I’m not in the mood for kicking up shit” and except for the years when we were together, when his mood seemed perfect for kicking up a lot of shit, he pretty much adheres to it.) has been looking after both boys. He and Blanca have, as he says, a love-hate relationship. Indeed, he seems to be a far better father, even to Oscar’s son, than she is a mother, feeding them well (she does not) and taking them to the pool (she does not). It is Guillem who suggests taking them to Cadaqués, a resort where her mother had a house and which is now, of course, hers.
Blanca’s current lover is Santi. He is an architect and there is no work for architects. His firm is doing badly and he is barely getting paid. He is married with children. He later claims, to her disgust, that he and his wife have not had sex for a long time. However, because of his financial situation, he cannot afford to divorce her, so he and Blanca meet for sex in various places. It often has to be quick. Indeed, they have only slept (as in spent the night) together once. It is not a satisfactory relationship. My life’s a piece of shit. I’m a total mess, he states.
The rest of her life is also chaotic. She barely eats and drinks too much. She throws up more than once during the book. Her small house is a mess. She moved in two years ago and still has lots of boxes piled up and unopened. She feels that she has not really grown up. I’m a total fraud at being an adult, my efforts to progress beyond the playground at break time have all been resounding failures. I feel as if I’m still six years old and I was able to remain a little girl until I was forty years old, with two children, two marriages, a slew of relationships, several apartments, several jobs, and now I hope I’ll be able to make the transition into becoming an adult and not go straight on to old-ladyhood.
Her girlfriends do not seem to be in a much better position, at least as far as their love life is concerned. Sofia has a son, Daniel. When she was getting older and had no romantic liaison, she persuaded, her ex, Tom, who was married with two daughters, to have sex with her purely for procreation. He agreed, provided that he had no financial responsibility for the child, though he does see him. Elisa has a Cuban boyfriend, Damián but is very jealous. When Damián later kisses Blanca on the mouth, Elisa is furious with both of them.
So they agree to go the house in Cadaqués to stay and enjoy the seaside life. They consists of Blanca, her sons, Sofia and her son, Elisa and Damián, Oscar and Guillem and Úrsula, the babysitter. Also in Cadaqués are Santi and his family, Blanca’s friend, Carolina and her husband, Pep, Joan, the local mayor with whom Blanca has always been friendly, and the mysterious dark stranger from the funeral. The mix is decidedly chaotic. Blanca sleeps (as in has sex with) with Oscar and Santi and meets Martí, the dark handsome stranger and nearly has sex with him. She dumps Santi and has a huge row with Elisa over Damián.
Indeed, this novel is about grief and Blanca’s loss of her mother. She talks a lot to her mother but not always in a positive way. She found her mother controlling and, as a result, kept a lot from her, particularly her love affairs. However, as she says at both the beginning and end of the novel, she will never get over her death and will always miss her. But the novel is also about chaos or, more particularly, Blanca’s chaotic life style. The story is narrated in something of a chaotic manner. Blanca tells her story in a torrent, using colourful (in every sense of the word) language. The Spanish word putear, for example, which can best be translated as fuck up, appears frequently. In short, a suitable sub-title for the novel might be A Life in Chaos.
For me, one of the interesting things about reading contemporary novels is to get a better picture than I can get from a newspaper or elsewhere of the current situation in that country. Elisa attacks Blanca, saying This childish idea you have of a new kind of society that theoretically our generation is building while nobody’s looking, where we all understand one another and kiss whomever we want whenever we want and go in and out of relationships like we go in and out of our houses and have children with this person and that person, it only works when you don’t give a shit about other people. The people in this novel are well-to-do middle-class people and therefore clearly not typical of the average Spaniard. Nevertheless, they clearly do have a far more casual view of relationships than their parents and, more particularly, their grandparents would have had. Apart from Santi, they seem to be relatively immune from the dire economic situation in Spain.
This book has done very well in its short life, selling a lot of copies in Spain and being translated into many languages. Indeed, it is surprising to see a relatively unknown Spanish author having a novel translated into English within a year of its publication in Spain. Busquets certainly writes a lively tale of Blanca’s chaotic life, together with her grief at her mother’s death and her not always smooth relationship with her mother. It is certainly a good read and an excellent account of a woman at a crossroads in her life, not sure, either at the beginning or the end of the novel, where exactly she is going.
First published 2015 by Anagrama
First English translation by Harvill Secker in 2016
Translated by Valerie Miles