Set in 1920s Spain, the novel—here in English for the first time— takes place over six summers at a seaside villa inhabited by a young couple and their beautiful, rich, joyous friends. All the while, the guests are observed by the villa’s gardener, a widower who’s been tending the garden for several decades, who is the true protagonist.
The style of Garden by the Sea is slow, observational and oblique, never strident ... Although the changing relationships of the vacationers is what moves this book's plot along, they become almost ancillary to the way that early 20th-century Catalonian class-politics are subtly articulated through the gardener's observations. The patient, eloquent and often digressive prose of Rodoreda, who wrote in Catalan, provides an aesthetic experience on each page that assembles itself bit-by-bit into an unforgettable novel ... Dark, comedic and written in lush detail, Garden by the Sea is a compelling portrait of the affluent vacationers of the beautiful Catalonian coast of the 1920s.
It is a testament to Rodoreda’s skill that she not only packs such richness into her novels, but it is just understated enough to intrigue the reader to dig deeper. It is not just hesitancy that clouds the narrative, but also grief ... Martha Tennent and Maruxa Relaño embrace the seeming non-events of the text and render emotional undercurrents beautifully, skillfully striking a balance between the rhythm of Rodoreda’s writing and the moments where we seem to luxuriate in the language itself. Both the translators and the author seem to know that the power of Garden by the Sea lies in the spaces between the words, in what remains unsaid, and the result is a story that settles itself in your mind, content to be recalled later on, perhaps in a garden.
Rodoreda’s work denies us easy emotion; instead, emotional experience is conveyed through what remains unsaid, a skill Rodoreda performs with a unique mastery ... At its simplest, Garden by the Sea is a story of spurned love, shifting sands, and the ways in which idleness and inaction can come to define a life ... However, there’s a carefully-rendered pain behind his observations, indicated in the way his life has stagnated almost to the point of paralysis ... The Catalan story, and the story of its literary tradition, is unavoidably marked by linguistic repression and interruption—it isn’t linear, and neither are Rodoreda’s narratives. As such, she writes stories in which astute narrators stumble upon meaning as if by accident, letting their discoveries pass without being dwelled upon by remarkably unselfconscious prose. Her characters, unaccustomed to both agency and self-reflection, are wholly unable to say what they mean, which causes massive and sometimes fatal failures of communication.