Last Updated on October 3, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 556
Gaite's protagonist is a lone woman living in Spain who begins the text with a chapter about her struggle to sleep. Narrated from the first-person perspective, the novel follows the protagonist as she interrogates her subconscious in the form of an embodied journalist.
In this first chapter, the protagonist plumbs the depths of her memory trying to locate something familiar, but she struggles to do so. The following quote encapsulates the feeling of trying to conjure the specific images she wants to recall:
As the difficulty of the hieroglyph increases, my desire to understand it trickles away. The tide has suddenly surged over the beach in an unexpected swell and is sweeping everything away as it recedes. I admit defeat and give up.
This quote is significant because it demonstrates the heavy use of metaphor throughout the text, in addition to the existential concerns of the protagonist. As she struggles to recall the individual details of her long-forgotten memories, she realizes how unreliable her memory might be. She explains that, in her insomniac state, she is even more incapable of remembering exactly what she wants to remember.
As a writer, the protagonist struggles to work on her latest project in an oppressive political climate, which is mirrored by her failure to recall her memories. In chapter 4, about midway through the novel, she says:
. . . time steals by so furtively that we don't even notice, we don't see it passing. But all of a sudden we turn around and find images have moved behind our backs, frozen photographs that bear no dates . . .
In this quote, the protagonist is explaining to the journalist why she has compared the "passage of time" with a children's game called "red light." In the game, children are supposed to stop and freeze when told. Anyone who moves during these moments is disqualified. The protagonist sees time as a series of tricks, whereby our mind tricks us into not realizing how quickly time passes as it occurs yet allows us to perceive its passing after the fact. As a result, the protagonist feels, people often have trouble remembering when something happened—only that it has already occurred.
The penultimate chapter begins before the writer's daughter returns home from a night out. Just moments before the journalist "leaves" and the protagonist falls asleep, he tells her that he thinks he understands her, saying:
. . . you've spent your life without ever leaving your refuge, dreaming all by yourself. And in the final analysis, you don't need anybody . . . [dreaming] of a great story of love and mystery that you don't dare tell . . .
The writer is immediately annoyed at how simply the journalist has summed up her personality, before confessing that she isn't entirely sure she "dreamed" up the story, asserting that it's possible her life has been one of love and mystery, after all.
This assertion about the protagonist shows, once again, the fallibility of her memories, while underscoring her deep longing for human connection—which explains why she seems almost attracted to the journalist, who is nothing more than a figment of her own consciousness. The protagonist reveals that she has spent much of her time living internally rather than externally, which is why she feels so fraught by novel's end.