Guest Post: Learning to Talk to Plants by Marta Orriols (trans Mara Faye Lethem)

Today we have another guest post from Hetty as part of the Indie Book Network, with our thanks to Poppy at Pushkin Press for the review copy.


Learning to Talk to Plants is a slight novel told from the perspective of Paula Cid, a woman grieving the death of her partner. Paula not only has to bear the tragedy of his loss but also the knowledge that he was planning on leaving her for someone else – something revealed shortly before his death. Moving between Paula’s past and present, the novel is a captivating portrayal of the way people come to terms with loss and the way they recover from it.

Working as a paediatrician in Barcelona, Paula is surrounded by life and death, her job requiring her to safeguard the lives of fragile, newborn babies. The determination she brings to the task of saving them, is at length the determination she brings to the task of salvaging elements of her own life. This includes saving the wilting collection of plants her partner has left behind in their flat (plants referred to in the novel's title). Paula turns her attention to the plants and vows to revive them, saying: "My name is Paula Cid and I can breathe life into anything." Her resolution and strength make Learning to Talk to Plants compelling; the novel is a restorative read rather than a maudlin or depressing one.  


Written by Marta Orriols and translated from Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem, Learning to Talk to Plants is elegant in the way it uses language to depict intense emotions and the unfolding of relationships between people. Paula's feelings towards her partner are shown to be shifting and complex. In her "hate and love sometimes lump together like beads of mercury, and the amalgam exudes a feeling that's heavy and toxic and strangely wistful." She misses and yearns for him in spite of his betrayal.


Equally complex are the novel’s depictions of Paula's relationships with her father (still recovering from the loss of his wife), her long-term best friend, Lidia, her work colleagues, and the myriad of other people in her orbit. The novel is wonderful in the way it picks up on small details within these relationships, such as the way Paula's relatives talk around her, overly conscious of her loss, "in phrases that trail off...like something out of a phrasebook". 


Learning to Talk to Plants also makes use of strange and innovative turns of phrase (an impending bad mood is viewed as a cumulonimbus cloud on the horizon, a sudden and horrible realisation compared to a curettage). The prose is beautifully written and exerts a steady hold over the reader. An offering from Pushkin Press, the novel fits with the company’s aim of publishing stories "to be read and read again". Paula’s healing of herself and reclaiming of her life, is something to be read about and returned to when seeking comfort and strength.


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Hetty is an English graduate working in publishing. She has previously been shortlisted in the WritersHQ Flash Fiction competition. When not writing, she enjoys wild swimming and exploring new places. Twitter @hetty__m


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