The title of Oldladyvoice derives from a passage in this, Elisa Victoria’s debut novel, in which the preteen protagonist is knocked back by a group of would-be playmates and mocked for her supposedly deep speaking tones, what they call her “old lady voice.”
By this point, we’ve clocked there’s a secondary meaning, as nine-year-old Spaniard Marina narrates her life with a pleasingly jarring combination of unlikely maturity (industrial language, knowledge of the peculiarities of adult society) and raw naivete (her mother – also named Marina, as is her grandma – has bouts of life-threatening illness, which the child fields with a puzzled shrug). All this in a register a little like Holden Caulfield, which may be attributable to Spanish-to-English translator Charlotte Whittle.
It requires a tightrope to be walked, having a kid pontificating like an adult without the results tipping from ‘good weird’ to ‘bad weird’. Marina thinks and talks of sex, indeed sexualises herself, but only a chronically bad-faith reading of Oldladyvoice would conclude anything dubious. The novel is set in Seville circa 1993, with occasional flashes of contemporaneousness (references to the Gulf War and Dragon Ball Z) but generally preoccupied with the enduring cogs of childhood. Your speech patterns aged nine probably weren’t much like Marina’s, yet her essential thought processes might get a twinge of recognition.
Oldladyvoice, Elisa Victoria [trans. Charlotte Whittle] (And Other Stories)
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words NOEL GARDNER