This is is a novel I would not have discovered without the review at seraillon. And it is without a doubt a book I would have sorely missed had I not read it. At sixty-four pages, it can be read in a single evening…for some of you, in a single hour. But, it is not a book to be rushed.
Is it a mystery? Is it an ode to the love of literature? Is it a romantic story of one bookseller’s passion for a beautiful woman who comes in and steals his books? It is all three.
Our narrator owns a bookstore named La Entretenida (literally, The Entertaining) into which Severina walks one day. When she leaves, she has “slipped two little books from the Japanese section into her bag.” Every time she comes to the store she takes a few books. Every time she takes a few books he records the missing titles along with the date and time. But, he does nothing to stop her.
In fact, he falls in love with her.
It is almost with obsession that he follows her and her grandfather, whom he has been told is her husband by another bookshop owner, to their pension. Even though he knows where she lives, temporarily, and rents a room there for himself, she remains elusive. From what country does she come? How have they remained in Spain with false passports? All of her belongings fit into one small backpack, for she seems to live on books alone.
Of course that is fantastical. But it is a suggestion that I feel Rodrigo Rey Rosa offers up. And as a fellow bibliophile, I find myself not questioning the veracity of this story at all, especially as her grandfather explains it quite clearly below:
I ought to begin by pointing out, though it shouldn’t come as any surprise, that we’re really quite ordinary people. I have my ideas, and she goes along with them, but in her own way, of course. Books have always been my life. Both my father and grandfather lived exclusively from books, each in his own way – books of all sorts. And I’m not speaking metaphorically: books are our sole means of subsistence,” he said and then fell silent.