Love and Selfishness in Difficult Times

The Time in BetweenThe Time In Between
Author: María Dueñas
Translator: Daniel Hahn
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
New York, 2009

Review by Carla Martínez

Synopsis: The young seamstress Sira Quiroga leaves Madrid in the tumultuous months prior to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, driven by her passionate love for a man she barely knows. Together they settle in Tangier, a wild, vibrant and exotic city where anything can happen… including betrayal and abandonment by the person in whom she placed all her trust. The Time In Between is a passionate adventure in which high-fashion dressmaking, glamourous hotels, political conspiracies and sinister secret service missions are all fused together in a story of loyalty to the ones we love and the irrepressible power of love.

When I bought this novel I did it partly guided by the critics’ quotes printed on the back cover, which describe it using adjectives like “overwhelming”, “stunning”, “brilliant”, “one of the most powerful novels of recent years”, and so on. With comments like these and after reading the synopsis, I believed I was going to love this book. It had everything I like in a novel: a story set in the midst of war, espionage… in short, it was a real eye-catcher, without even counting the fact that when I bought it the book was already in its seventh edition in Spanish, only a short time after its original release.

After reading it, I can say that it let me down, and that I don’t share the opinions of other reviewers. I would call it simply a good time-killer, not the novel of the decade.

I should clarify that I don’t have anything bad to say about María Dueñas’s writing style; for a first novel she does well, without either overloading the narration or holding back too much in the descriptions. At certain points in the novel I loved her descriptive style, and it is clear that her descriptions have been well researched.

What I wasn’t so keen on was the story itself. The problem, at least for me, was that I wasn’t able to believe in Sira, whom I didn’t find at all appealing. And if you don’t like the protagonist of a novel narrated in the first person, which presents everything through her eyes, it can become a little exasperating. I found Sira Quiroga selfish and utterly apathetic towards what was going on around her. She didn’t seem to follow the events unfolding in her country with any interest, and she was barely even interested in the people she lived with in the hostel. I didn’t understand her decisions, or her motivations.

I was much more interested in supporting characters in the novel, like Candelaria, Félix, Gonzalo or Ignacio The problem is that these characters disappear completely at certain points in the novel, leaving me wanting to know more about them.

In addition to fictitious characters, there were also characters who are real historical figures, like Beigbeder and Rosalinda Fox, whose life stories, I have to admit, I didn’t know about.

What I did like about The Time In Between was the view it offered of the streets of Tangier and Tetouan, where I would say the best part of the novel takes place. I also enjoyed learning more about the dress styles of the era, as in the passage where Sira makes a Delphos gown for one of her customers.

In short, I found this book neither bad nor brilliant. It entertains, with a few ups and downs, of which I found the espionage dimension to be the aspect most poorly realized. Perhaps I was hoping that it would explore the Spanish Civil War a little more than it did, but the story took a different direction.

Incidentally, the Spanish network Antena 3 produced a highly successful miniseries based on the book, starring Spanish actress Adriana Ugarte as Sira. The series, which premiered in 2013 to an audience of more than 5 million in Spain, is now available for downloading on various streaming websites.

Review translated by Martin Boyd.

Carla Martínez is a writer and blogger based in Tenerife on the Canary Islands. Her blog “Confesiones de una librófila” (in Spanish) offers a wealth of reviews of works of fiction.

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