Monday, 22 April 2019

The Red Gene - Barbara Lamplugh

An intriguing family saga that digs a little deeper at the fabric of conflict and the sociological implications and attitudes in a Spain ravaged by Civil War and Franco’s regime.  Somehow it avoids the temptation to become overtly political and propels the reader towards a more domestically delicate dynamic. 

A novel that spans several generations The Red Gene tells the story of an idealistic and courageous young woman, Rose Tilly, who volunteers as a nurse in the Spanish Ciivl War. Hinting at a potential chick lit scenario Rose falls in love with an equally idealistic and courageous Republican rebel , Miguel, but it is only a hint and the ensuing story pivots on decisions made by Rose and the events that overtake her. A parallel history is that of Consuelo growing up in Spain, discovering that she is adopted  and finds attempts to discover her true origins unsuccessful. She follows the domestic dogma of her class and culture.

The historical research is so thorough you don’t doubt a word of it and you are completely immersed in the bleakness of a country at war with itself. The atmosphere of Spain is palpable but nothing prepares you for the denouement of what happened, and the implications intimated by the book’s dedication.  It’s one of those stories that presents as fiction but alerts the reader to an historic atrocity that has you asking why? How could I not have known? And I’m so grateful to emerge from a novel feeling better educated as well as entertained by the writing and the storyline. 

I was impressed by the way the histories of the women unfolded and the connections between the relevant parties were gradually made apparent. There were moments when I twigged what was happening but it was that delicious feeling of subtle revelation that lifts a reader. 

The characterisations were detailed and whilst it seems like the book has a cast of many it serves to highlight the almost stereotypical sizeable Spanish, Catholic families. I had to turn back several times to refresh my memory as to who was who especially as the generations unfolded! 

The concluding chapters were poignant. In fact much of the book is poignant yet not without redemptive and uplifting moments. Ultimately family and love are the keys to unlocking this jewel of a novel. To what does the 'red gene' of the title refer? Oh no, you're not gonna get me on that one! Read the book!

My thanks to Urbane Publications for a copy of the book. 

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