Oldladyvoice by Elisa Victoria review – a wise, warped jewel of a novel

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Seville, 1992, and nine-year-old Marina is acrophobic that her parent is dying. While her parent is successful hospital, Marina is sent to enactment with her grandma – who is “seventy-two, short, pot-bellied and has nary regrets” (and is besides called Marina). More than her mother’s beingness is hanging successful the balance: unless the aesculapian treatments are effective, Marina, who is estranged from her father, is to beryllium sent to a convent school. Over the people of 1 long, torrid summer, betwixt sun-baked flat artifact courtyards and a workers’ edifice successful Marbella, she reckons with the complexities of life, decease and her ain burgeoning lust successful this sweet-and-sour debut.

With its candid depiction of pre-adolescent sexuality and undercurrents of familial tragedy, Oldladyvoice put maine successful caput of Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s International Booker-winning The Discomfort of Evening. But Elisa Victoria has a lighter tough, and her communicative remains buoyant. Child narrators successful big fabrication are often either irritatingly starry-eyed oregon overbearingly precocious. Marina is neither. Her sweetness, anxiousness and mercurial outlook connected the satellite astir her – of frozen croquetas, blistery integrative deckchairs and porn pilfered from her mother’s boyfriend’s nightstand – marque her an enchanting companion. She knows her introspective quality and kitschy sensibilities acceptable her isolated from different children, who mock her twee outfits and societal awkwardness (“Oldladyvoice” is the derisive nickname fixed to her by a lad successful her class).

“Everything would beryllium easier if I weren’t truthful precious,” she says. “I effort to fell it, but it’s written each implicit me. Perfume commercials, TV dances, dolls’ houses, Xuxa. I adore each things corny.” But nary substance – Marina doesn’t person galore bully things to accidental astir her peers, either: “People successful my procreation are either boring dimwits oregon Machiavellian pigs … I conjecture my spot is successful soundless rooms, and determination indispensable beryllium tons of others similar me, holding their enactment alone, without anyone knowing.”

Oldladyvoice is firmly anchored successful clip and place. The archetypal Gulf warfare and the predetermination of Felipe González play retired successful the inheritance connected fuzzy tv sets, portion Marina’s catalogue of references – Sailor Moon and Smurfette, Whitney Houston and Chabel dolls – volition evoke a moreish nostalgia successful immoderate kid of the 1990s. But determination is thing deeper than nostalgia astatine enactment here. Although the publication is acceptable successful the caller past, Victoria cleverly weaves into Marina’s monologue the unease of the present, a poignant consciousness of impending planetary catastrophe that threatens to engulf her protagonist’s constrictive world. This is, successful galore ways, and with owed cognisance of the paucity of specified categorisation, a “millennial novel”.

Adults, Marina insists, “talk down to us, saying kids person it casual these days”, but she sees done this patronising optimism: “Centuries are a large deal, which 1 you get has a large effect. Most of my beingness volition hap successful the twenty-first century, weird arsenic that sounds. This is conscionable an in-between chapter, the past 1 for aged radical now, and a acheronian prequel for the kids who’ve conscionable been born.” As the vigor of the summertime builds, Marina’s grandmother’s neighbours retreat into their small, stifling flats, wherever they volition spot the millennium end, “in a shadiness of burnt orange, lukewarm and gloomy”. For Marina, the 90s “are each that stands betwixt america and what’s next”.

If each this makes Oldladyvoice sound ponderous, it is not. More than anything, it is hugely bully fun. Victoria’s prose is effervescent, her jokes ne'er miss their marks, and the observations of her young narrator consciousness arsenic tender arsenic they bash authentic. I loved this wise, warped small jewel of a novel.

  • Oldladyvoice by Elisa Victoria, translated by Charlotte Whittle, is published by And Other Stories (£11.99). To enactment the Guardian and Observer, bid your transcript astatine guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges whitethorn apply.

AK Blakemore’s The Manningtree Witches is published by Granta.