I loved this book.
Let me get that out of the way quickly. I loved it, I read it in one sitting in about an hour, and I can’t wait to read it again.
I bought the book from Folio Books in Brisbane, which is for my money the best bookstore in Brisbane. I bought it in 2014, and then – I didn’t read it. I remember quite well the day I bought Severina. I caught the red Free Bus which loops endlessly around the city centre and looked out the window while I held the book in my hand. I had intended to read it on the way home, perhaps, or later that night. I didn’t. I don’t know why. I remember buying the book, but I don’t remember what made me put it aside.
At any rate, nearly two years later, I decided to give it a go. The edition I have has on the front cover a photograph of a young woman facing away from the camera, facing bookshelves filled with books. Of course it appealed (From a distance the sound of a car horn).
Severina‘s plot is concerned with a young woman named Severina who regularly comes into a small book store and steals books. Sometimes one, sometimes more. The perspective of the novella is that of a young man working at the book store. Naturally he is intrigued. He starts to record which titles she is stealing in an effort to determine who she is and what she wants. Is she a poor student? Is she selling (laughter) the books she steals? Is she taking them home to read (there is a sound of applause in the distance). Whatever it is, he’s curious. And it doesn’t hurt that she is attractive.
And enigmatic. Oh, yes. They start to talk, she is happy to visit his home, to be with him. She tells him stories of her home life, with her grandfather. Or is it lover? It’s unclear. Is she with the book store employee now, or with the grandfather/lover? He tracks down her home, visits them. The novella fractures, becomes dreamlike (nightmarelike), and it’s unclear what is happening or why.
Severina works because Rodrigo Rey Rosa takes the time (in an 86-page novella, no less) to anchor the work concretely to a place, two people, a theme. And then he can disrupt it. If the novella had become too vague too quickly it would have felt too gaseous, an insubstantial nothing serving to show off a prose writer’s dreams of writing bad poetry. But this does not occur. The two main characters have time enough to converse, interact, develop a relationship, and then it’s shattered – or isn’t shattered – or might be shattered.
We are left at the end confused about the woman and her life, but attracted to her mystery and what she seems to represent. And, tangentially, to the mystery of books and literature.
So – the perfect book for me? (gales of laughter and then, silence)
The Books, Read page contains a list of all of the books I have read over the years.