Inés Martin Rodrigo, The form of the questionerEditions Destino, 2022, 329 pages, ISBN 9788423360895
André Malraux said that death is only important to the extent that it makes us reflect on the value of life. Author and journalist Inés Martín Rodrigo, winner of the 2022 Nadal Prize for his novel Las forms del querer, could well agree with the words of the French intellectual. Although she started writing the story in 2019, its origins actually go back to when her mother died 25 years ago. Memory, love and literature are the main themes in Martín Rodrigo’s first work: an authorship that dives into the infinite faces that love can assume, a look at the past as an exercise in self-understanding, but also an ode to literature as a refuge and to the process with writing as redemption. Just as Alice crosses the mirror, Inés Martín Rodrigo has gone beyond her work as a journalist to move on to fiction and offers us a portrait of the countless faces of love, where contradictions and doubts exist side by side with the characters.
The form of the questioner tells the story of the family to Noray, a woman in the midst of an existential crisis that hits rock bottom when grandparents Carmen and Tomás unexpectedly die. After the funeral, with unbearable grief and many questions plaguing her, the protagonist decides to lock herself inside the family home in the village, exactly where she grew up and where she was taught the many ways to live. Far from everything, but in the epicenter of her childhood, right at the place where she grew up, she seeks refuge in writing and decides to embark on the project she has rejected for years: a novel that tells the story of its roots.
The novel begins with Ishmael, the character in whom we will discover later, Noray believes he has found the love of his life. Estrella, Ishmael’s wife, does not understand why he remains so attached to this woman. The beginning of the story illustrates what we will see later: a bubbling melting pot of characters trying to come to terms with their disagreements, their obsessions, their emotions, and who, above all, seek to find a break that promotes reflection on all these problems . Ishmael, one of the main characters, will find it in the reading of Noray’s novel without her knowing it. The process of writing Noray’s novel intertwines with the present; a gift that Noray lives under sedation, in the hospital, after trying to end his life. Ishmael will suffer while reading the manuscript, but it will also open new horizons for him. He will come to wonder if it is too late or not to regain control of the present and his love for the young girl. He will even come to martyr himself by wondering if he has not previously surrendered her to her fate, by not having been up to it.
In this scenario, as for a stunned woman in a hospital room and a married man reading her story, Martín Rodrigo mixes Noray’s family history with that of Spain, thus reflecting the time ranging from civil war to the consolidation of democracy. The protagonist will trace the lives of his loved ones, crossing them with his own fears and ghosts, on the way to the question we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives: who am I really, where do I come from? and what is my true self?
The structure of the novel is, to say the least, original. Like Russian dolls, there are several novels in one: While Ishmael reads the young woman’s family history, in the same hospital room where she lies, he wants to pick up the pieces and learn to understand her. Love appears there embodied as this ideal of romantic and definitive love, almost irreparable, even though it is crossed by a thousand cracks and a distance that may be nothing more than a lack of communication or understanding between the two. It is one of the great strengths of The form of the questioner : the written words appear as a refuge, the writing as a buoy one can hold on to when everything is dark. In this hospital room 205, which crystallizes the meaning of their whole relationship, Ishmael will say to Noray: “I love you with all my soul, and in a way that I could not have been aware of before reading your words, all your words. ”
That which is not named does not exist, and it is precisely with this intention that the novel is constructed. An essential and admirable feature of the work is not only the love of people among themselves, but also the love of teaching and the role of teachers, especially embodied by the character of Philomena. The love of literature that connects people and the love of the writing process that helps to better understand oneself and communicate with others. For this purpose, Martín Rodrigo draws a sentimental geographical map.
On this card drawn by the author, we witness a journey into the past that stretches into the present, with flashbacks that take us back in time and then constantly return to the hospital room, where Ismael continues to read the novel about the young woman with us. The rhythm does not let up during the almost 400 pages where we are presented with the protagonist’s inner fears and where we solve the stories of the many characters that pass before our eyes. And these are two of the great keys to the story that Martín Rodrigo has built: the naturalness and originality of the way of approaching the themes and writing them down on paper, but also the ability to build this whirlwind of characters – main and secondary – with their own fears, their own desires, and their endless emotional depressions, to make us, along with Noray, understand that among the many ways to love, it is best to be true to oneself.
Noray’s learning process is largely based on the memory of his grandmother Carmen and the legacy she left him. It is interesting to see how the author poses the tangle of thorns that memory can bring: To what extent is what Noray remembers completely genuine, or is it rather crossed by a myriad of interpretations of the young woman herself? How faithful can memories be to the past? With the character of the grandmother, Carmen, a woman who survived the Civil War and the post-war period, it is not only these questions that come to mind, but also the power of memory as a lesson, and above all the value of support between Women. This brotherhood is especially crystallized in the relationship between Carmen and her inseparable friends – Margarita, Filomena and Mari – which embodies intimate closeness, infinite accessibility to others. We slide here toward yet another strong point in the novel that makes it unique: the tribute to all these comrades who did not have the opportunity to study and develop their vital concerns, which continued their lives as best they could. brought up families in a ruined country.
Spain’s recent history is in many ways the backbone of the novel. First of all, in the way in which the lives that the dictatorship extinguished are portrayed, as in the case of Tomás and Carmen, who had to emigrate to Madrid to earn a living and follow their hopes, and in the way in which the conflict civil and the post-war period has conditioned the infinite forms of love. One of the main points of the novel is precisely love in all its aspects, not only the passionate and romantic love embodied by the grandparents, but also the love of the family, as that of the grandmother to her grandchildren or the brothers Tomás. and Sixto, separated by a war that placed them on different sides, or even the unconditional love that unites Noray with Martha.
It is said that the future has an ancient heart, and perhaps that is why the protagonist decides to present us with a wide range of loves, both from his family and those closest to him, in order to understand himself. Each story is special and thanks to each of them we understand the different forms of love, for example through the story of Trini and Blanca, two women who loved each other as best they could despite the circumstances, at a time that did not that. accept diversity as much as today. We also meet Manolín, out of step with the time he must have lived, or the relationship between Olivia and Alberto, who do not know how to love each other in the conventional form in which they have been taught. All the characters seem to live on the fringes of society, bypassing reality in their own way, trying to adapt to the circumstances and cope as best they can.
After all, the ending is a hymn to hope. Ishmael cries and lies down next to Noray in the hospital room, and as the metaphor for the beginning of another life, dawn breaks in the room. A special gesture, in the last scene, opens the way to the future: the protagonist shakes hands with the man she considers the love of her life, and smiles back at him, but without mentioning any future together. “And now? He asks her.” Now I just want to rest, “she said. The last sentence reveals that Ishmael must be the father of his wife Estrella, and that Noray opens, as in an endless novel, the possibility of another life , for a window that opens to let fresh air in, a new look.