What I'm Reading This Week: An Englishman in Madrid, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, and Night Work

I’m reading a few books this month: An Englishman in Madrid, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, and Night Work, which is part of a Michael Cassidy series that I’ve never heard of. Every book in the mystery genre I pick up these days seems to be part of this or that series. I’m really not a fan of this model: in general, when it comes to crime fiction, I choose novels based on locale, maybe gruesomeness, but never based on characters. Except, you know, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. But I only like Poirot because he’s short and Belgian.

An Englishman in Madrid reminds me of Sting’s song about Englishmen in New York, which can be credited as one of the reasons I wanted to read it, but the real hook is the setting.

They attack us because they’re afraid of us. And they’re afraid of us because reason and history are on our side. We are the future, and the weapons of the past are useless against the future.

At the time of writing, I’m a little over halfway through the novel. It’s set in the years of unrest before the Spanish Civil War, with the protagonist as a man named Anthony Whitelands, a British art expert who specializes in 17th-century Spanish art. Velazquez and the shit. He falls in love with an aristocratic girl named Paquita-I-don’t-remember-her-real-name and also with a very valuable Velazquez painting that her family is hiding.

I have mixed feelings about Anthony. As a rule of thumb I have little patience for British people. Anthony Whitelands possesses some of the characteristics of what to my mind is the stereotypical Englishman: he’s sarcastic, likes to believe he’s analytical, hesitant, and foolish around people of other nationalities. The Spaniards call him Tony, or Antoñito, which I think is much cuter than old Anthony. His naÏveté when it comes to Spain is somewhat endearing, as is his equally naÏve love for Paquita. I guess that’s why I like him.

“But I’m not Catalan,” Anthony explained. “I’m English.”
“Heavens! I’m so sorry. What with your strange accent and fact that you didn’t leave a tip…”

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night might turn out to be my favourite read of 2016. (Yes it’s only May.) It’s written by a Canadian, and a beautiful one at that, which makes me feel I should love it even more. The book is about two cynical, selfish Quebecers. You might think that would make them very unsympathetic (especially the Quebecer part), but the opposite turns out to be true.

Their names are Nouschka and Nicolas Tremblay and they are twins of a famous father who’s always in jail and a mother who’d abandoned them as babies. They’re nineteen years old. Now, this weirds me out more than anything else in the book because I’ve always considered anybody above the age of majority to be a full-fledged adult, but as I read about Nouschka and Nicolas, I realized that being nineteen years old meant they were only two years older than I was. I mean, they were out smoking and drinking and sleeping around with middle-aged people, definitely adult things, while here I was worrying about getting good grades, whether the guy I liked liked me back, and which universities were going to accept me.

Was there the remotest possibility that in two years I’d end up like them? I found it hard to even imagine. Maybe the differences are owed to the fact that I have parents who actually care about me.

Nouschka and Nicolas are together so often that there’s an almost incestual tinge to their relationship. They use all sorts of couple-terms to describe each other (two halves of a whole, that kind of thing), and might as well be conjoined. But Nouschka, the narrator, is the more mature one out of the two. Nicolas gives me the impression of a man who tries too hard at coming off as not having tried at all: he thinks he’s better than everyone but at the same time wants nothing more than their attention. He needs to be different from the norm, to be doing things nobody else is doing.

He loved risky behaviour more than anything else. Ah, the things that Nicolas had to do to feel alive. It was beautiful.

Nouschka is more sincere, although her confessions are mostly confined to within her mind. On the outside, I think she’s as bad as Nicolas. She wants to improve herself, although she’s not certain of the steps involved. Furthermore, she’s capable, to some extent, of real optimism.

I like her.

There are so many cats in the book. Nouschka always uses a metaphor to describe them. Like a skinny boy in a jumper. Or a regretful girl the morning after a one-night stand. I wonder why in books boys are never the ones to regret one-night stands?

Night Work’s main character is Michael Cassidy, a policeman. I didn’t care about Michael Cassidy originally, but he grew on me more than most crime fiction protagonists as the book went on. The book jacket promised that at least part of the story takes place in Cuba during the Cuban Revolution. As mentioned, setting is important to me, and that played a big role in my reading it!

I’m not very far into it: thirty whole pages. I don’t have anything deep to say about it either. It’s just a regular crime novel with a lot of guns in it, and some politics. I do wish that the author didn’t have to give Cassidy a relationship, because there’s no point dedicating a subplot to a love story which has nothing to do with the rest of the situation. Then again, I’m’ only thirty pages in. Judgements will be reserved for later!