El Hacho by Luis Carrasco

Luis Carrasco's El Hacho is a novella set in Andalusia. The main character, Curro, is a farmer who lives and works on the olive farm he has inherited from his late father, along with his brother Jose-Marie. Looming over the olive grove is El Hacho itself, the mountain that dominates the surrounding landscape, and which has attracted the interest of a quarrying firm. Despite the hardships of running a tiny olive farm in the punishingly hot weather conditions of southern Spain, Curro refuses point-blank to sell his land - while Jose-Marie loathes working on the farm and longs to take the money.

El Hacho isn't a plot-driven novel - very little actually happens - but rather an extended vignette. We see Curro struggle to keep his farm going in a terrible drought, carrying out back-breaking physical tasks alone in the heat, trapping rabbits for him and his wife to eat while she makes gloves from their skins to sell to tourist shops in the nearby town, and we follow the dispute between him and Jose-Marie over the future of the farm. Curro's relationship with his wife is touchingly solid and affectionate, as indeed is his relationship with the land and his olive trees. This book reminded me somewhat of Jean De Florette, and also of the Icelandic film Rams in that is has that same sense of a relentlessly difficult relationship between farmers and their land, and of a desire to preserve an inherited way of life in a changing nation.

The arid Spanish landscape is brilliantly described in a way that's extremely evocative - you can almost feel the sun beating down and taste the salted almonds that Curro roasts as a snack. Curro himself is dogged and stubborn: just as his neighbour's mistreated bull refuses to back away from him, Curro is battered and beaten by the land, the weather and sheer exhaustion but insists on plodding on to do his duty to his meagre inheritance.

I do think it's a good thing that this book so short, because if this were a longer novel the richness of the descriptions and the heat-soaked slowness of pace would soon become too much. But as a short novella and a glimpse into a way of life that's rapidly dying out, it works beautifully. I recommend reading it with some Spanish-style bread and a dish of olives beside you.

El Hacho is published by Epoque, a new independent publisher specialising in literary fiction, who kindly sent me a copy of the book to review.