Variable Cloud

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An impassioned correspondence between two former school friends as they reach crisis in middle age, from the prize-winning Spanish novelist Carmen Martin Gaite

Sofia is a mother of three grown-up children and trapped in a loveless marriage to Eduardo. Mariana is a successful psychiatrist, incapable of forming stable relationships with men.

As their lives reach crises in middle age, these two women, former school friends who had grown apart, reach out to each other through an exchange of impassioned letters in Gaite's effusive epistolary novel.

Mariana, a psychiatrist and TV pundit, flees Madrid for a friend's empty house in a coastal resort, where she obsesses over Raimundo, a suicidal, manic-depressive writer who seems part friend, part patient, part lover. Her old friend, Sofia, walks out on her vain, hypercritical husband, Eduardo, a business executive who talks only about money, and moves in with her three rebellious children, who share a disorderly apartment.

In alternating voices mixing letters with notebook excerpts and invented stories, the two women relentlessly analyze their relationships, erotic fantasies and trips abroad. Strewn with allusions to Kafka, Dali, Bunuel, Tagore and Katherine Mansfield, their outpourings incorporate meditations on memory, love, sex, the treacherous nature of words, chance and the difficulty of confronting one's past without embellishing it.


  • A chronicle of female friendship, expressed largely through an exhaustive exchange of letters between two women who resume their long-dormant intimacy when each must grapple with the demons of middle age and unravelling relationships. Sofia, a wife and mother who leaves her mercenary, emotionless husband, and Mariana, a psychiatrist who can't help obsessing over her depressive lover, share their views on sex, politics, literature, and many other topics in a discursive, allusive correspondence and communion that is, alternately, absorbingly dramatic and painfully dull. This ambitious 1992 novel from one of Spain's leading writers (now translated into English for the first time) was a major success in Gaite's homeland, but may find a relatively lukewarm response in a culture where feisty criticisms of lamebrained machismo are not a novelty.

About the author

Carmen Martin Gaite

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