With wistful eyes, the guard observes the lovers. He discusses
their love letters with the dead painter, who "visits"
him time and again and becomes his lone soulmate, or rather, his
alter ego. Decades later, narrating the love story to a girl, he
lyrically describes the couple’s embraces, their kissing in
the rain: "I’ve seen man and woman get up to all sorts,
but these two, they drank each other up. They licked the water
off each other with their lips and tongues. They were so
drenched they must have felt naked. They kissed like two
barbarity of the times and the wretchedness of his own life,
Herbal remains responsive to the beauty around him, holding on
to the only tangible thing he possesses — the pencil. He does
not lose his humanity, even though he has to conceal it for his
own good. Ironically, not even the lovers come to know that he
has helped ensure their survival. That makes him a fascinating
character, deserving of the reader’s sympathy and admiration.
Far from being a
grim and sordid tale, The Carpenter’s Pencil
entertains the reader with a generous helping of humour. The
encounters between Herbal and the dead painter display the
writer’s playful imagination. Then there is the doctor, the
man with more lives than a cat, who has the audacity to humble
officers with his wisecracks.
thing about the novel is that it has been written by a Spaniard.
Owing to dictator Franco’s long rule, the most famous prose
works about this tragic chapter of Spanish history are by
foreigners — George Orwell, Andre Malraux and Ernest Hemingway
— writers who witnessed the Civil War and even fought in it. The
Carpenter’s Pencil is not in the same league as Homage
to Catalonia and For Whom the Bell Tolls, primarily
because it bites off more than it can chew. Nevertheless, the
bittersweet portrait of people fighting their own wars makes an