by Kevin Booth
For more information on Celia’s Room, go to Poble Sec Books.
Alana Woods, writer
“The language in this book is beautiful, like the paintings the author describes.
It’s the story of two young men whose lives collide in Barcelona in the years preceding the Olympic Games. From two different worlds they meet in a third; one reluctantly embracing it, the other repelled but drawn to it. Celia, while not the central character, is the catalyst who moves the two towards the ending.
As far as language goes it’s one of the more beautiful books that I’ve read.”
Francis Barrett, review on Goodreads
Nothing is quite as it seems. This book rejoices in ambiguity and ambivalence, successfully capturing the zeitgeist of Barcelona in the period when the optimism and openness precipitated by the restoration of democracy in Spain was fading as the ETA terrorist campaign continued to take lives, political corruption was exposed by the uncensored media, and the city began to undergo massive redevelopment for the Olympic Games of 1992.
Set mainly in the medieval Ciutat Vella (Old City), occasionally moving out to Camp Nou and the leafier uptown districts, the story unfolds through events narrated by two young men with very different backgrounds, perspectives and prospects. Both are engulfed by a nocturnal social milieu that will be immediately recognisable to anyone who experienced the last days of the notorious Barrio Chino before swathes of it were demolished to make way for the antiseptic Rambla del Raval.
Eduardo, a diplomat’s son used to a cosmopolitan life of privilege but traumatised by violent loss, is simultaneously dismissive of and drawn to tawdry “lowlife” decadence, distracting him from his career path. Joaquim, escaping a stultifying rural Catalan background and intent on becoming an artist, is easily entranced by flamboyance, and soon exploited to paint and decorate the interior of an aristocratic but dilapidated old mansion inhabited by a colourful cast of exotic characters with shady sources of income. Of these, the most enigmatic is Celia, a beautiful outsider who remains out of focus until the climax.
While most of the protagonists are recognisable Barcelona “types”, their personalities are not so much stereotypical as archetypal, rendered believable by ordinary human frailties. This is particularly true of Celia, whose mystique is heightened by infrequent but powerful utterances.
The narrators’ depictions of alcohol-driven, drug-fuelled bohemian nights of poetry and song, revolving between bars, after-hours dives and shared flats in the Gothic Quarter, contrast with their personal moments of unease and self-doubt. Misunderstandings amongst the revellers induce mistrust, jealousy, anger and shame. The inaugural house party held in the mansion to celebrate the pagan Vispera de Sant Joan (Midsummer’s Eve) brings these tensions to a sharp explosion of revelations and epiphanies.
The author’s knowledge and love of Barcelona are clear from his vivid descriptions of places, architecture and ambience. Another reviewer (on Amazon) rightly admired the “passages of almost scholarly historic reference and beautiful expositions of particularly poignant works of art that give the plot a rich cultural context”.
There are some lovely turns of phrase, with flashes of poetic imagery, startling similes and curious metaphors. The tone ranges from lightly self-deprecating to deeply philosophical, with some parts written in an almost scientifically disinterested style and others using language so alluring and sensual as to qualify as genuinely erotic, without being pornographic.
As a meditation on sexuality, I found Celia’s Room insightful and thought provoking. Perhaps more importantly, I enjoyed the story a lot, and at times laughed out loud. This intelligent and entertaining book is fun, and definitely well worth reading!
Dean Scurlock, writer
Celia’s Room smacks you in the temples with a disjointed artistry that keeps you engrossed page after page. Not a conventional story style, it reads more like a linguistic painting, with colours and shades that you could wrap yourself up in… The story appears to be a journey through seemingly impassable barriers that some of us face in our youth… A touching story, beautifully written and totally engaging.
Would make a great film
Ross Mackie, reader
Celia’s Room arrived early this week. I finished it last night and loved it. You kept me up late, I was so keen to know what would happen that I kept on going. Loved the character of Edu, absolutely real and true to life. I hope there is a queue at your door bidding for the film rights, it would make a great film. It makes a pretty bloody good novel too. I’ll look out for the next one.
Contribution to contemporary literature
Toni Torres, reader, BA in Modern Languages
I’ve been told that I’m the first non-English native speaker to read Celia’s Room… I would like to say that the style, the rhythm of the story and the plot itself made me want to read more and more. I just got nervous and excited to think about what would happen next. Kevin Booth masters the art of writing as many great writers in history did and I’m sure that this novel is going to be a contribution to contemporary literature. If you consider yourself a reader, you shouldn’t miss it. Buy the book because you’ll wish to read it again a few years later.
Stunning debutK. Evans, writer
If you like Kerouac or Isherwood you will love Celia’s Room.
If you know Barcelona you will find the descriptions and characters completely authentic. I could almost smell the Gothic barrio.
I picked this novel up on a Sunday morning, intending only to read the opening salvo to decide whether I liked it enough to take with me on the train to work the next day. I didn’t put it down until I’d finished it five and a half hours later. It is gripping, intelligent and deeply sensual but also witty and fast-moving. I found it utterly compelling.
The plot follows a returning expat ingenu as he feels his way around Barcelona at the end of the eighties. He is enticed by the sexually liberated Bohemia of a city still experimenting after the death of Franco and dictatorship but bound by the memories of religious stricture. Nobody is quite what they seem and his moments of naive joy are cracked open by prejudice, poverty and an undercurrent of menace.
It is packed with shady eccentric characters and sharp poetic imagery. There are also passages of almost scholarly historic reference and beautiful expositions of particularly poignant works of art that give the plot a rich cultural context.
It’s also funny and very very entertaining… worth reading. And I hope this is an author worth watching out for.”
Read this review and purchase Celia’s Room here.
Worlds and underworlds
Estrella Ramon, writer specialised in children’s and young adults’ literature, professor of Children’s Literature and Communicative Skills, Rovira i Virgili University (Tarragona).
“Barcelona in the 90s: a blend of worlds and underworlds, a kaleidoscope of stories which interweave and fray apart, the sensation of imminent disaster… Will you be able to resist skipping to the last page?
If you’re a reader and have been lucky enough to come across the novel Celia’s Room, what are you doing here, wasting time on these few lines? Keep reading!”
“I’m very glad I chanced upon this – it’s one of the most interesting and impressive pieces of writing I’ve come across on this site.” – Miro
“This is definitely an interesting piece of writing. I enjoyed the imagery and you weave a masterful sentence.” – pauletteclay68
“The narrative voice is strong and draws the reader into confidence.” – OliviaQ
“The language was vibrant, emotional and atmospheric and each scene is sharply drawn…” – Esmeralda
Purchase Celia’s Room here.