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Book Cover Image: The Wrong Blood by Manuel de LopeTitle: The Wrong Blood

Author: Manuel de Lope

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “In the Basque Country in northern Spain, just before the Civil War, three men in dinner suits stop for a drink at a bar before continuing on their way to a wedding. Their trip is interrupted when their leader, the wealthy Don Leopoldo, has a stroke in the restroom.This event, bizarre and undignified though it is, begins to weave together the lives of two remarkable women: the bride, the beautiful and distinguished Isabel Cruces, and María Antonia Etxarri, the bar owner’s adolescent daughter. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, María Antonia is raped and Isabel’s newlywed husband, Captain Julen Herraiz, is shot. Both women find themselves violently altered, alone, and pregnant. A crippled but wise local doctor is the only witness to the mysterious, silent agreement these women conclude in the loneliness and desperation of their mutual suffering. Many years later, a young student, grandson to Isabel, returns to the scene of the events to spend an innocent summer studying for law exams. As he goes about his work, he unwittingly awakens the ghosts haunting both María Antonia and the doctor, and through their memories the passionate stories of the past unfurl before the reader.”

Thoughts: The Wrong Blood is one of those novels I really wanted to love but left me feeling flat. Several days after finishing the story, I am not quite certain what Mr. de Lope was trying to accomplish. Was he trying to tell a story about the impact of the Civil War or was it more a study of humankind and their reactions to adverse conditions? I suspect the answer is both things, but the fact that I am not 100 percent certain about it leads me to conclude that he was not successful with whatever he was attempting.

The narrator is obviously a man, and unfortunately, this is not a novel where a male author writes female characters that are true to life. Considering that the story revolves around María and her struggles, this is a glaring conflict. This is particularly true of the rape scene, which avoids any discussion of the emotional trauma and approaches the entire scenario rather clinically and coldly. Throughout the novel, María is never truly fleshed out as a woman but remains this chilly, miserly one-dimensional character who is more concerned about counting place settings than about others’ feelings. I suspect that in the right hands, María could truly have come to life, which would have made the flashbacks and other parts of the story come to life as well.

Considering how much of the novel revolves around the characters, Dr. Cortez and the grandson Goitia, Isabel and María, the fact that they remain stilted and lacking in emotional connection does nothing to recommend the story. The big reveal is quite predictable, and the entire story plays out as one expects.  A character-driven novel only works when readers are able to take a vested interest in the characters. Unfortunately, the reader is not able to connect with any of the characters in this fashion.

The Wrong Blood redeems itself via its descriptions of the Basque countryside. Lyrical in their sweeping grandeur and beauty, this is where Mr. de Lope shines. The reader truly gets a sense of what the Civil War did to the inhabitants of the area, how confusing and treacherous it was for all involved and the scars it left on both people and locations.

As this is Mr. de Lope’s first novel translated into English, one cannot help but wonder how much is quite literally lost in translation. Then again, because the physical descriptions are so excellent, this leads one to conclude that very little is actually lost. Therefore, is this an instance of an author who is better able to provide poetic descriptions of places but cannot do the same for people? Without reading Mr. de Lope’s other works, one may never know. I do know that The Wrong Blood has moments of brilliance but a large majority of the novel fails to spark. The result is a novel that does not live up to its own expectations.

Thank you to NetGalley for my review copy!

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