Five Hours With Mario – Miguel Delibes

An intense psychological drama by one of modern Spain’s premier writers, this novel is part of the Twentieth Century Continental Fiction Series. Mario Collado, a high school teacher in San Diego, Spain, dies in his sleep at the age of 49, leaving his wife, Carmen, and five children. As Carmen watches over the corpse of her husband during the hours between the wake and the Mass and burial, she muses over their life together. Mario had habitually read certain passages in the Douay Bible, which, he said, enriched him and calmed him. Now his widow picks up the book and reads the underlined passages. The ensuing monologue is a gloss on these Biblical rubrics and on a matrimonial mismatch that is funny and sad by turns. “House and riches,” she reads, “are given by parents, but a prudent wife is properly from the Lord.” Mario, she reflects, was satisfied with the prudent wife, but now, suddenly, he’s gone off and left her pulling the load. But was he so satisfied? Carmen gradually constructs a damning self-indictment of a class-ridden, determinedly ignorant, anti-intellectual woman married to an idealist who was her opposite. Without realizing it, she has been an Xanthippe to a minor latter-day Socrates. The reader may feel a bit claustrophobic being shut up too long inside Carmen’s head, but the surprise ending is the reward.

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