Jacobé & Fineta, by Joaquim Ruyra (translated by Alan Yates), is a slim volume of two short stories preceded by an introduction by Julià Guillamon. I would advise skipping the enthusiastic introduction until after the stories have been read as it contains spoilers.
The first and longer story, Jacobé, is narrated by a young man named Minguet who has returned to visit the coastal town where he grew up. As a young child from a wealthy family he was placed in the care of Nursie, a widow with a daughter two years older than the boy. The pair were lively playmates and enjoyed each others’ company, developing a deep affection that abided long after Minguet was sent away to school.
The tale opens in autumn. The author uses descriptions of weather and the natural decay of the season to create a shadow of pervading melancholy. The comparison between this and the happy memories of Minguet’s time spent with Jacobé and Nursie portend some deterioration in events to come.
It has been Minguet’s habit to visit his former playmate and carer when home during holidays from school. He is always made welcome, although Jacobé’s enthusiasm could at times be uncomfortable.
“even though such a warm welcome was enough to stifle in me all feelings except tenderness, those ‘little one’ pricks felt very offensive to a man who had already turned twelve.”
By sixteen Jacobé was considered beautiful – ‘healthy and full of vitality’. She was, however, starting to display worrying behaviours.
“Jacobé would welcome me with exaggerated enthusiasm, and with a rather indiscrete interest in what I had been doing.”
Within a few short years this behaviour developed into a psychosis alongside which Jacobé’s physical health deteriorated markedly. At this stage there is a suggestion that she is being punished for the sins of previous generations. Minguet ponders such an idea under the tenets of his religious faith, which I personally found a tad off-putting. That is not to question its authenticity given period and setting.
The narrative voice employed in the telling is smooth. The dialogue between characters is somewhat coarse at times. I wondered if this was to highlight differing social statuses and associated opportunity in education.
Metaphors make much use of natural phenomena to portray how people appear and behave. The growing agitation felt by Jacobé and then Minguet add to the tension.
Although poignant, the denouement offers what is almost relief after the suffering described. While the religiosity did not work for me, the comforts to be found in nature, especially the sea, were skilfully wrought.
The second story, Fineta, tells of a sixteen year old girl left alone at home while her father and brothers go out to sea, fishing for days and nights at a time. She fears the darkness in her solitude so rises early, encountering a woodman who is new to the area. Later in the day, her fears dispelled, she walks to a nearby beach. Here she swims and feels at ease, until the man reappears. Her long term reaction to what happens next is more complex than expected.
Both stories evoke the time and place to effect as well as providing much for the reader to consider. The elements of dark behaviour depicted suggest a transience in happiness through lived experience, although both plot and character development are secondary to the author’s artistry with language.
A book worth reading, offering much that will linger. A compact but still satisfying read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fum d’Estampa.