Chevalier Editions, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-615-13884-8
Contemporary Fiction, 2007
Mad Days of Me: Escaping Barcelona is the first book in a projected series. In this one, 19-year old Rudy who decides to leave what seems to be a dead-end life in an unidentified town in… the UK, I’d guess. He hops on a train and roams around looking for a job or a clue until he ends up in Barcelona, Spain. An attempt to locate a place to stay for the night culminates in poor Rudy getting raped and robbed. Now without a passport, Rudy is pretty much “trapped” in Barcelona to live on the streets unless he manages to get his passport back.
The thought that stays with me as I read Henry Martin’s story is that he should have exercised some self-editing during the writing of this story. The story has a rambling stream-of-consciousness quality to the narration, not that there is anything wrong with that if this is intentional on the author’s part. However, the author often goes on to describe in paragraphs after paragraphs things that really don’t add much to the story.
I am standing in the middle of what appears to be a promenade. With my back arched against the wrought iron railing encasing the entrance to the subway, I pause, enjoying the smoke. Hundreds and hundreds of people passing by, relaxed, laughing. It is a cold February night in Central Europe, while here people wear just sweaters and light jackets. Only a couple feet away from me is a flower stand. The scent is all around me, the colors vibrant. Countless little blossoms, the likes of which I have never seen before, are dazzling my mind. I am getting lost in the sea of colors, exhausted, instinctively knowing I must rest. When I look at the map from the tourist office, I recognize one of the hotels right in front of me. I walk in, “No vacancy” reads the sign above the reception. So much for convenience. Across the promenade is a small square lined with cafes; there in a corner is another youth hostel. The place is available, but I don’t like it. All the decent rooms were taken and I would have to settle for a bunk bed in a room of ten. Not the kind of rest I had in mind. The front desk clerk points to a building only a few doors down. “There is a small pension, maybe they have some openings.” I thank him and leave. I am getting tired of dragging my baggage and want to lie down. The receptionist is friendly. She takes my passport and hands me a key.
“Up the stairs and to your right,” she says and then adds, “Good night.”
The room is bright and clean. White walls, white curtains, white sheets and towels. Two small bottles of shampoo in the bathroom. I lock the door and sit at the edge of the bed. What am I doing here? Why Barcelona? There is no one to answer, so I take off my clothes and jump in the shower. The water smells different than what I am used to, somewhat salty. Refreshed and in clean clothes I don’t feel like sleeping anymore. Maybe something to eat will calm me down. From the window I can see the cafe right below. Small circular aluminum tables and plenty of people around them. This is it; this will help me to sleep. The last meal I had was on the train station in Italy and that was almost a day ago. I order Spaghetti a la Carbonara and a beer. Nice change after eating pizzas and sandwiches.
The next morning I am awakened by the cleaning crews. I look around and realize I am in my hotel room. Serene and sanitary. That’s the best way I can describe it – the lack of any personality is striking. I look out of the window and light a cigarette. The plaza below is calm; the absence of the crowd plays a sharp contrast to what it had been last night. There are benches all around the perimeter and palm trees in between them. A small fountain in the middle quietly bubbles away, occasionally ejecting water streams into the air in perfectly timed periods. Kind of a nice place, I think to myself.
The above paragraphs are very descriptive and will work very nicely if Mr Martin is writing about his recent trip to Barcelona, but since this is supposed to be a story, the above paragraphs don’t really add much to the story. I don’t need to know every single thought that goes through Rudy’s head. Because the story has too much information dumping, the pacing of the story becomes unnecessarily slow. Scenes that should be more greatly emphasized due to how much they affect the character, like the rape scene, is described more like an afterthought, in the same tone and urgency as the manner in which the author describes Rudy’s meal in the above excerpt.
As a result, I often find myself wondering whether this story is going anywhere. Mad Days of Me: Escaping Barcelona lacks a coherent direction. Rudy doesn’t seem to have any ambition, so I wonder why he doesn’t just stay in Barcelona and try to find a life for himself here. Is there some other place that he wants to be? Maybe he wants to go to Amsterdam and get spectacularly coked to the gills, I don’t know, but it will be nice if Mr Martin gives me a compelling reason as to why Rudy wants to “escape” Barcelona so that I will care for this guy’s adventures. It also doesn’t help that Rudy doesn’t seem to grow as a character. He retains a distance from the characters on the streets that he encounters and he doesn’t seem to be affected by his experiences.
Still, the scenery is spectacular. All those details of the scenery in this story makes me feel as if Mr Martin is personally taking me along for a visit to Barcelona. Unfortunately, that will make this book a good travelogue instead of a good story in any form.