I’m always a little wary when small publishers approach me to review a book, and époque press is tiny. If a book from a large conglomerate turns out not to suit that’s one thing but for a press as small as this one it’s entirely different. Sporting a ringing endorsement from Jon McGregor on it’s beautiful jacket, Luis Carrasco’s El Hacho is the first book époque have published. Set in the mountains above Ronda in Andalucia, Carrasco’s slim novella – barely more than a hundred pages – reads like a fable deeply rooted in the landscape of southern Spain.
Curro was born and raised on the olive farm his father and his father’s father cultivated for years. He remembers his father courteously rebuffing approaches to buy their ancestral land, twice offering a man from Malaga a handful of home-grown almonds and sending him on his way. Curro lives in the old family home with his wife Carmen, farming the land alongside his brother who comes up from the village at the foot of the mountain each day. This year the south is in the grip of an autumnal drought. As Curro and Jean-Marie labour in the searing heat, Marie complains while Curro placates. It’s clear that Curro sees himself as the guardian of this mountain grove where both his parents are buried while Marie has his sights set on an easier life. When Marie fails to appear for several days, Curro takes himself off to the village, visiting the bar where he knows his brother will inevitably show his face. They come to an arrangement that will cost Curro dear. Not long after, the drought finally breaks in a storm which is biblical in its ferocity.
Written in simple, clean prose from which vividly evocative descriptions sing out, this is a remarkable debut both for its author and publisher. Carrasco’s writing is strikingly poetic at times, stripped of ornament and all the better for it:
Without these trees I’m just a man, which is nothing much to be Curro’s father tells the man from Malaga
The olives hung weakly on their stalks, unresponsive to the touch and sad like rickety children observes Curro
We’re all spokes on the same wheel Marie. We turn together declares Curro of their community
There’s a timelessness about Carrasco’s novella. Despite the lure of the modern world, Curro remains quietly loyal to his family and to his neighbours while his brother succumbs to the temptations of what he thinks money can buy. Tuck this one into your case if you’re off to Spain for your holiday, or anywhere really. I wish I had, although the Spain of Madrid and Toledo is very different from Curro’s.