SmallStations - Agustín Fernández Paz

Clara Soutelo is a sixteen-year-old girl who spends her summers in the town of Vilarelle in Galicia. She descends from a well-to-do family that was on the winning side in Spain’s Civil War and that occupies the manor house in Vilarelle. All the local families look up to them, and Clara has taken this attitude for granted. That is until the summer of 1995, when a skeleton is discovered in the manor house during restoration work. It has been walled up for many years, perhaps since the time of the Civil War, and the skull has a bullet hole. Clara also discovers a ring bearing the initial ‘R’. What is the identity of the victim, and who wielded the murder weapon? The search for the discovery of the truth will lead Clara into her family’s inglorious past through the witness of the town’s inhabitants, and will also sow the seeds of romance between her and a young mechanic by the name of Miguel, descendant of the bookbinder Ishmael, with whom she shares the secret pleasure of reading.

‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,’ writes H. P. Lovecraft at the start of his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature. In real life, the author Agustín Fernández Paz, Galicia’s answer to H. P. Lovecraft, is reading the newspaper and comes across a classified ad for a haunted house. He imagines what would happen if someone answered that ad. Then what would happen if they went to see the house and liked it. Then what would happen if they had enough money and decided to buy it. And finally what would happen if they went to live there and discovered that the house was really haunted. This is the plot of Winter Letters, one of the best-selling Galician novels of all time. The house will bring to mind, for older readers, the Bates’ home in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho. Inside the house is a book of prints that may remind younger readers of Tom Riddle’s diary in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. However this may be, the reader is sure to be drawn in by the force and power of the narrative, which is as smooth and sinuous as the sirens’ song heard by Ulysses from the sanctuary of the mast of his ship.

Víctor Moldes is an outstanding psychiatry student, looking to test his knowledge on patients. He is given a job at the prestigious Beira Verde Clinic in Galicia, near the Portuguese border, and handed a patient, Laura Novo, who is capable only of writing her name on blank sheets of paper. Slowly he draws her out of herself and she agrees to tell him her story, how she left Madrid in order to work on her thesis and escape a difficult relationship that was going nowhere. Her return to the land where she grew up, to stay in a guest house run by a schoolteacher she had fallen passionately in love with when she was a teenager, has fatal consequences. Her presence in the remote area of Terra Chá awakens the Great Beast, who up until that moment had been slumbering in the depths of the earth. Once awake, the Great Beast has one year to achieve its objective. Dr Moldes finds himself drawn into a conflict he is barely able to understand, let alone control, and, having finally pieced together the fragments of the narrative, he is in a race against time to save his patient.

Agustín Fernández Paz’s book can be called not a bestseller, but a thriller. Dealing with the known, but ending with the unknown. Suggesting the expected, but giving the reader the unexpected. Great love, a psychiatric hospital, exorcism and the unravelling of a plot which turns Freud, Jung and civilization upside down. People are a lonely crowd, under and over which the primary forces of nature prevail. They are like in a clamp, from which the only way out, though unreal, is the deceit of the megalopolis. A story so black it oozes tar, which stops you breathing.