Review: Learning To Talk To Plants by Marta Orriols


Title: Learning to Talk to Plants

Author: Marta Orriols Translator: Mara Fay Letham

Published: 3rd September 2020, Pushkin Press

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Pushkin Press/Edelweiss

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My Thoughts:

“You said that talking to plants was a private, transformative act, an act of faith for those who don’t believe in miracles. I get up, take a breath, and add to my list: Learn to talk to plants.”

In need of a book for the Books In Translation Reading Challenge, Learning to Talk to Plants caught my attention in the Edelweiss catalogue. This debut won Spanish author Marta Orriols the Omnium Cultural Prize for the best Catalan novel in 2018, and has been skilfully translated into English by Mara Fay Letham.

Learning to Talk To Plants is a raw and moving story of love, loss and grief. Just hours after her partner of more than a decade informs Paula he is leaving her for another woman, Mauro is killed in an accident. Paula is devastated by his death but her mourning is complicated by her feelings of anger, hurt, and betrayal.

“Everyone assumed, during those weeks following the accident, that my stunned gaze, neglected appearance and lowered blinds were due to my sadness over losing the person who’d been my partner for so many years; no one realized that, clinging to the pain of his death, there was another grief, slippery but slow, like a slug able to cover everything— including the other pain—with its viscous trail that gradually saturated everything, ugly, so ugly that all I knew how to do was hide it, I was dying too with the shock of this new shame, even more shocking than the death itself.”

Orriols’ eloquent prose immerses the reader in her character’s intimate thoughts, moving between her struggle in the present and memories of her past. As a neonatologist who lost her mother at a young age, Paula is familiar with the fragility of life, but this loss is more complicated. Though grief unfolds in a predictable manner, from denial through to acceptance, Paula’s experience of it is so intensely personal. I found her situation intriguing, and had great empathy for her. I was particularly impressed by Orriols’ authentic and nuanced portrayal of Paula’s volatile emotions.

“My pain is mine and the only possible unit for measuring or calibrating it is the intimacy of everything that comprised the how. How I loved him, how he loved me. How we were, uniquely, no longer us and, therefore, how I could uniquely grieve him.”

The writing is eloquent, I highlighted at least a dozen sentences or paragraphs that struck me as particularly meaningful or profound. The momentum is steady, but not slow, moving the story forward over the course of about six months.

I may have selected Learning To Talk to Plants to ‘tick a box’, but I was rewarded with a tender, evocative and insightful novel that I would recommend.

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