*Short Story Monday is a weekly feature run by The Book Mine Set*
Several years ago, my mother attended a conference in the Netherlands where she stayed at the NH Hotel in Rotterdam. As part of the welcome package, she was given Bedside Stories, a collection of five short stories published by hotel’s Spanish parent company, NH Hoteles. I think this is wonderful. It got me wondering about books and libraries in hotels. I’ve done a bit of research and not many hotels offer library services. Certainly, I’m yet to stay at a hotel that housed a library or distributed books to its guests.
NH Hoteles sponsors the NH Mario Vargas Llosa Short Story Awards, which “with a prize money of 60,000 euros, aims to foster reading and literary creation, to provide support for contemporary writers and contribute to the promotion of cultural leisure offerings. The prize-winning stories are published in English, Spanish and German and distributed in all the rooms of the chain’s hotels, as a free service for customers. This competition is the most important award in the Spanish- language short-story category.”
Bedside Stories contains one of the winning stories (there are four categories) and four finalists from the 2003 competition. The stories, in order are:
- The Furies of Menlo Park by Ignacio Padilla – This story is about a race between Thomas Edison and other businessmen to create the first talking dolls. The story sounded so real that I went looking for information on Edison’s work with talking dolls. Of course, I found none. But with over 1,000 patents and inventions to his name, maybe Edison did really work with dolls. The story focuses on the inventor’s assistant Nervez and his reactions to the working conditions endured by the women workers.
“Without uttering a word, he cut out the death notice, put it in his pocket, and locked himself in his office anticipating the day, many years later, when a journalist from The Times or some admirer came demanding his memories of Edison.”
Bitterness had crept in, so how much of what Nervez has related can I really trust?
- Two Hundred Years is Nothing by Lola Beccaria – this story is set at a time when people could live for hundreds of years by routinely replacing their old organs with new ones. And where one gets married and divorced by swiping a card through an ATM. The narrator of the story, a 200-year-old bachelor, has been told that he needs to replace his brain. For someone who clings to nostalgia, who likes to relive memories of past romantic conquests, the thought of replacing his brain is unpalatable. And he decides to go on a vacation; perhaps distance away from his usual routine will help him reach a decision. At the resort, he runs into one of his old girlfriends (from fifty years ago), one who tried really hard get him to settle down. While she remembers him and their relationship, she is aloof which he finds odd, given how loving and clingy she’d been in their past relationship. Turns out she’s had her brain replaced. This story concludes with two possible endings.
- Lies About Ondarreta by Juan Pimentel – this story traces the stage in a young boy’s development, during one summer at the beach, when he learns to hide the truth and lie a little to survive socially awkward moments, particularly to put the adults in his life at ease. I think we all learn this useful skill. It’s the first time that I’ve read fiction that specifically deals with this.
“Well, that was Erika, that was how I learnt to swim, that was Yoldi. No more than a dream, something to kill off the days with. A couple of distractions to fight the boredom and harshness of Edurne, a great expedient, a great invention that not only enable me to grow and thus leave my childhood behind, but also to bury all of my truths in the sand at Ondarreta”
- Akiburo’s Hands by Ángel Olgoso – Written in the style of Japanese folk tales, this is a story of “humble master swordmaker”, who after crafting his best sword for the provincial governor, suffers a grave injustice that imperils his domestic life. A story, in which, revenge is exacted in a most astonishing but fitting manner.
- The Vampire on the Floor Tile by Javier Sagarna – A young child is subjected to scary pranks by her older brother. A really wonderful story told in the voice of the child. The fear of her brother’s antics juxtaposes well with the impending but natural change that is happening within the family.
I enjoyed this collection and appreciated the diversity of the stories, particularly the inclusion of the piece with fantasy and sci-fi elements. I don’t like the title however. But then this is a book meant for hotel guests so the use of ‘bedside” is appropriate. Kudos to NH Hoteles; this is a great way to promote Spanish-language short stories.
On the translation: All the stories were translated by Bianca Southwood. There are a couple of grammatically mistakes and mispellings but overall a good translation.