Peter Mayle's original memoir, "A Year in Provence", created a whole generation of non-fiction tales about English couples heading off to the Mediterranean to renew their zest for life and to escape the rat race. Christopher Marsh's absurd literary comedy turns that tradition on its head, by presenting us with the ridiculous yet heroic figure of Jesus Sanchez Ventura, the Andalusian peasant whose wife Begona tires of the heat, the lemons and the tranquility of Spain, and who persuades the family to relocate to Belfast. So begins a literary romp which combines the verbal playfulness of Flann O'Brien with the poignant and misguided optimism of Don Quixote. Our hero Jesus quickly establishes himself in Belfast, mysteriously finding a position at the local university and eagerly making friends with his new Northern Irish neighbours. Completely unaware of the history of the region, he stumbles from one confusing conversation to another, doing his best to protect his delightful yet mischievous daughters Concepcion and Dilatacion, but becoming increasingly concerned as Begona develops a talent as an entrepreneur and spends more and more time away from the house.
Christopher Marsh is Reader in History at Queen's University, Belfast, and this is his first novel. Only an academic with a wicked and anarchic sense of humour could produce an opening paragraph like this: My name is Jesus Sanchez Ventura, and this is the story of my quest for a better life. I will speak to you in English for the very simple reason that I am more than competent so to do. Perhaps you will from time to time find my language almost diabolically fluent. You must understand that it is learned from the classics of your literature rather than from the old man in your dingy northern pub or, worse still, from your televisual celebrities (I spit out the words with scorn). Every night, I go to bed with better men than they, with Shakespeare or Dickens or Wilde, and I know what I am doing. I have slept with most of your literary giants, and they have infected me in a thousand ways...
Christopher Marsh teaches history at the Queen's University in Belfast.