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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Working Woman

Elvira Navarro

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To purchase A Working Woman

Title: A Working Woman
Author: Elvira Navarro
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 189 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: A Working Woman - US
La trabajadora - US
A Working Woman - UK
A Working Woman - Canada
La trabajadora - España
  • Spanish title: La trabajadora
  • Translated by Christina MacSweeney

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Our Assessment:

B : fine psychological study

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El País . 22/1/2014 Fernando Valls
Publishers Weekly A+ 14/8/2017 .
World Lit. Today . 11-12/2017 Bridey Heing

  From the Reviews:
  • "Todo lo cual vale como prueba de la necesidad que tenemos de leer otro tipo de historias, contadas de manera distinta y protagonizadas por personajes diferentes que lleven vidas de hoy, como ocurre en esta inteligente novela." - Fernando Valls, El País

  • "Navarro’s exceptional novel defies easy interpretation, culminating in a breathtaking and surprising ending. The author is especially skilled at crafting the details and peculiarities of her two characters’ psyches, and the result is a singular novel of art, friendship, and lunacy." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Written in a unique voice that evokes the alienation Elena feels so deeply, Navarro’s novel is a complex yet not overwhelming work that deals as adeptly with relationships between people as it does with the relationship people feel to their cities and their work. Pinning it all together with subtle effectiveness, the larger questions the book raises are pleasantly jarring. Taken as a whole, the novel is thoroughly gripping." - Bridey Heing, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Working Woman is a three-part novel. The long middle part has narrator Elisa Nuñez describe her life during the time when she has a roommate, Susana, but before she gets to that, in the first part that takes up about a fifth of the novel, she offers a (rather sensational and quite bizarre): "story of what Susana told me about her madness", recounting a time in her life some two decades earlier. In her younger days, Susana solicited sex via newspaper ads -- a reaching out for company and way of engaging with people, too -- and entered into a relationship of sorts with one of those who responded, the homosexual dwarf Fabio.
       Elisa is a proof-reader and sometime writer, and a while back she even published a novel. In presenting Susana's story, she notes originally: "her narrative was more chaotic"; she also adds, in square brackets and italics, some of her own reactions to parts of the text -- in other words, she shaped it, and inserted herself into it, in part, as well. As, of course, she then does more clearly in the middle section, which is entirely hers.
       The second part of the novel begins with a short story that Elisa published, in a now-defunct Spanish newspaper, before then coming to the main storyline, as Elisa describes the months Susana shared her apartment.
       Elisa had gone through three temporary contracts at the publisher she worked for, before being "converted to" an independent, making too little money -- and her employer in arrears with some of what she's owed, but cleverly keeping her in line by paying her for whatever the urgent books of the day are. Elisa can work from home, only occasionally venturing to the publishing house offices.
       The now forty-four year-old Susana, back in Madrid from seven years abroad, is recommended to Elisa by their mutual friend Germán, and quickly spreads herself out in the apartment, encroaching on Elisa's space in ways she isn't used to. Susana's strange habits -- such as disappearing for five days right after moving in -- grate and irritate, but the two do form a kind of friendship. Susana has a Dutch boyfriend she continues to keep in touch with, but doesn't mention family and seems to have, at best, superficial friendships -- much like the relatively isolated Elisa.
       Economic hardship is a prominent backdrop throughout most of the novel. Elisa struggles with her meager earnings, and traveling around Madrid constantly notes the many closed stores, desolate areas, and general sense of a city and nation lacking a sense of stability. Everything putters along, but is anything but thriving. Eventually, Elisa also struggles mentally, with panic attacks that overwhelm her, and literally paralyze her.
       Among Susana's preoccupations is the making of elaborate maps, manually pasting cut-out images to create them -- even though a similar look could be achieved with a computer program. Elisa encourages her to show them, and very quickly Susana seems on the cusp of entering the rarefied art world -- success in the creative field that has eluded Elisa. It is at this point that Elisa feels it is time to free herself from Susana, as well, this long middle section of the novel concluding with Susana moving on.
       A very short -- three page -- final part seems almost more an epilogue, jumping ahead some to Elisa's new, changed circumstances. It is in the form of a simple conversation, and sheds some new light on the preceding sections, too, suggesting that the stories are even more obviously Elisa's than their initial presentation suggested.
       If her financial and employment situation is still a similarly: "stable instability", mentally Elisa finds herself more balanced again; as she reveals, she's found a means to get herself to: "Another mental space". Navarro also nicely finishes the book with this exchange, leaving the story -- and the questions it raises -- cleverly open-ended.
       A Working Woman does perhaps start off and fall back all too easily on variations of madness -- but then this is a book that is set in an economy struggling against collapse and ruin (while still going through all the motions and keeping up appearances), and so madness, and how it unfolds and manifests itself, is an appropriate metaphor.
       Appealingly, Navarro also doesn't fall back on the too-easy traditional forms of friendship and relationships -- though by stretching the concept so far at the novel's outset, she already blurs it in the reader's mind for the rest of the story. And while the pacing can seem odd -- including Germán getting rather lost in the shuffle -- the story is constantly propelling forward, and from the outrageous to the mundane, Navarro offers a good deal of good observation and invention.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 October 2017

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A Working Woman: Reviews: Elvira Navarro: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Elvira Navarro was born in 1978.

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