In this debut by a Spanish artist and filmmaker, a retired couple is still mourning the death of their son 35 years earlier when a storm tips their house off its cliff and into the sea, where they float away into a brighter future.
Where are we? This simple question takes on enormous existential weight for the central couple of Miquel Reina’s tender debut novel ... Reina skilfully exploits [the] surreal (or 'marvellously real') aspect to the story to investigate and reveal the long-buried and repressed emotions within the Grapes, the sub-conscious incrementally teased out as the journey unfolds, suggesting that healing (hard and painfully earned) is possible even years on from tragedy ... Reina’s immediacy of style...lends a thrilling moment-to-moment awareness of physical and environmental threat as the couple battle against the elements ... Reina in his enthusiasm and delight for his characters’ breakthrough has a tendency to overwrite the dialogue between Mr. And Mrs. Grapes-they reveal themselves to one another in an inelegant overflow of self-actualised effluvium that seems more the result of absorbing the text of a self-help book. This sometimes gross overstatement can be forgiven as Reina has built so much sympathy for the duo ... In the concluding segments, when Reina allows his authorial voice to reflect, he achieves some of his most moving, lyrically plain spoken passages. Sometimes we need to get lost in order to find ourselves, reads an anonymous quote at the start of the tale. And sometimes, when we are quite unable or unwilling to motivate ourselves, the universe will set in place its own strategy. Reina’s strategy is to embody this principle so winningly, fantastically and poignantly in this inaugural work.
Miquel Reina’s book is surrealistic and stark, unexpected and intimate by turns. As the Grapeses’ yellow house bobs toward the northernmost reaches of the planet, the story recalls Sara Gallardo’s Things Happen and functions as an extended allegory of loss, aging, and forgiveness.The text is replete with concrete and magical images: of a ship in a bottle that survives the crash, the aurora borealis dancing overhead, packed and flooded boxes, broken generators, stacked furs, and a hungry polar bear doing what hungry polar bears do. Some emotions feel exaggerated, some of the metaphors are overly sweet, and some of the realistic elements are underexplained, but the Grapeses’ story holds attention regardless. A novel in which a house may be a ship, and in which it’s never too late to start living, Lights on the Sea is a delightful trip.
Reina, as translated from the Spanish by Nelson...writes in a lyrical prose that highlights the magic of his magical realist premise ... The book is wonderfully paced and suitably tense without ever drifting into melodrama. It reads like a cozy, middle-grade fantasy novel, but for an adult audience. The ending is perhaps a bit easy, but Reina succeeds in crafting a resonant fable of life’s autumn years. An enjoyable, finely written fantasy tale.