Elena Quiroga: Presente profundo [Profound Present]
In her later life, Elena Quiroga became more experimental in her writing and this is evident in this later novel, often considered her best. Rubén is a doctor, specialising in histology, though he says he should perhaps publish an article on Galician women and their psychological problems. His story is about two women – not connected in any way, except that both are Galician – who commit suicide. One he knows during her lifetime, the other he only learns about after her death. We actually find out about the latter first. She is Daría Peñas Martínez, a fifty-nine year old woman. She is married to a baker with three children. Her life has been one of unremitting toil, working in the bakery and bringing up her children. When her husband takes on a younger girlfriend and her now grown-up children drift away, she sees no point to life and one day simply walks into the sea. Her father had drowned himself two years previously. Rubén only learns of her death by chance but meditates about it and her and when he sees her daughter, Amelia, becoming like her mother, working too hard, he wonders if the same fate awaits her.
Blanca is perhaps the first woman he fell in love with. She was older than him and clearly unsuitable, as his friend Enrique tells him. More to the point, she clearly did not love him the way he loved her. Blanca had a rich father but was never happy with her life. She married twice. Her first marriage left her with a child but the father and child moved to Switzerland so she almost never sees the child, which makes her very unhappy. She has tried suicide once before and Rubén visits her in hospital. Her mother had pushed her into psychoanalysis, which she really did not want to do. We do not learn till later in the book about her successful attempt. She was with Theo, a rock star who was very keen on drugs. She went with him to Amsterdam where they stayed in some sort of commune. This lifestyle clearly was not for her, not least because she felt that she was merely Theo’s appendage, and she deliberately took an overdose of LSD. When he went to identify the body, Theo was too stoned to do so. He later said Tenía derecho a su muerte [She had a right to her death.] The funeral was a hippy funeral, with the group singing Aretha Franklin’s Respect. As Enrique said, Blanca was aways fleeing from herself.
Rubén also tells us about himself. He had become a doctor because his father was a pharmacist. He had not wanted to be a pharmacist – indeed, when his father asked him to help him, as a child, he usually declined. His relationship with his parents was mixed, sometimes good, and sometimes not. He had become close friends with Enrique, who taught him much, particularly scepticism in religious matters. Indeed, it was Enrique who tended to have his feet on the ground. However, it was Rubén who said of himself that he was always looking for his kind of people and seems to find her, in Marta, towards the end.
One of the things that makes this book interesting is Rubén’s continuous speculation on the philosophical implications of what happens, much of which he discusses with Enrique. His view, he states (Enrique disagrees), is a variation of a Hegelian idea, namely that in life only the present exists but it can be configured by recollection and hope. In other words, we only live in our own time, not the past or future. The problem, however, for both Daría and Blanca, is that they do not have their own time, they only had what he calls nothing-time.
Though this is recognised as one of Quiroga’s finest novels, it has not been translated into any other language, as far as I can determine, which is surprising. It really is a fine novel, which needs some thinking about to really appreciate but surely there is room for, indeed, a need for a more philosophical novel. The subject matter, a doctor speculating on the unrelated suicides of two Galician women who cannot find a place for themselves in this world, is in itself an interesting one but Quiroga manages to make it even more interesting with Rubén’s speculations, both philosophical and personal, on the subject and his extending it to the role of women in Galicia at the time. Sadly, the chance of it ever appearing in English are not high.
First published in Spanish 1973 by Destino
No English translation