Reading guide: Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated by Julia Sanches
Discover our reading guide for Boulder, shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023, a love story between two women with very different visions of motherhood
Eva Baltasar demonstrates her pre-eminence as a chronicler of queer voices navigating a hostile world - in prose as brittle and beautiful as an ancient saga.
Working as a cook on a merchant ship, a woman comes to know and love Samsa, who gives her the nickname ‘Boulder’. When the couple decide to move to Reykjavik together, Samsa announces that she wants to have a child. She is already 40 and can’t bear to let the opportunity pass her by.
Boulder is less enthused but doesn’t know how to say no - and so finds herself dragged along on a journey that feels as thankless as it is alien. With motherhood changing Samsa into a stranger, Boulder must decide where her priorities lie, and whether her yearning for freedom will trump her yearning for love.
Boulder was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023, announced on April 18, 2023.
About the AuthorEva Baltasar is an author and poet who has published ten volumes of poetry, to widespread acclaim.
‘My protagonists are mirror images of myself, only more precise and always veiled. I try to discover who they are by writing, travelling to their darkest, most uncomfortable corners, which is like travelling to the darkest corners of myself, corners that are often repressed and at times denied wholesale. Being able to embark on this journey aboard a novel is as exciting as it is unsettling. It’s as if the novel had transformed into a caravel and the seas were vast but finite, teeming with monsters on the edge of the earth.
‘I wrote three Boulders. Three different novels with the same title and the same intention: portraying a boulder-like character. The title came first; that word was what inspired me. The first and second iterations of Boulder were a struggle, the product of two and a half years of constant writing. I tried to create a character, to be the hand that shapes the soul and maps out a story for the body. But I wasn’t in love with those two characters, who were completely different from each other. I need to want to be with my characters, meet them again every day, be in their company when I reread the novel, and love them through language, which is the only way I have of touching them. But I couldn’t.
‘I deleted the two novels and spent a few months learning how to give in. The light-bulb moment, the moment of understanding, came when I realised I didn’t have to form a character so much as let the character show herself. I asked for an image that would spark the third Boulder, and what came to me was a memory: Myself at the age of 20 boarding a freighter on Chiloé island on a stormy night. It was as I wrote that memory that I found the voice for the third Boulder, the definitive one. For six months, the voice pulled me along; it was my compass, and I could have followed it with my eyes covered. I put all my strength and will at the service of language, so it would be language that shaped Boulder. I didn’t know where I was going. The novel ferried us both like a ship to a final port, and it was there, in that foreign land, that I understood I was in love.’
Read the full interview here.
Boulder is a sensuous, sexy, intense book. Eva Baltasar condenses the sensations and experiences of a dozen more ordinary novels into just over 100 pages of exhilarating prose. An incisive story of queer love and motherhood that slices open the dilemmas of exchanging independence for intimacy.
Times Literary Supplement
‘Through such intricate writing, in Julia Sanches’s voraciously readable translation, the author deftly manages to elevate the idea of a relationship to a force of nature, with the character of Boulder representing the struggle to reconcile a desire to be alone with a desire for company.’
‘Boulder’s emotional isolation coupled with the poetic intensity of her sexuality makes her a striking character, unique in action and in thought, and the prose lilts in truly surprising ways as it navigates the plot’s more familiar tropes of love and desire, dedication and alienation. The book is a modern love story—global, queer, existential in its moral hierarchies—but it is also a rumination on those two most ancient of words: lover and mother.’
‘Baltasar offers a great deal of insight into the effect of the pregnancy and the child’s birth on the characters, though the plot turns on tropes […] Still, this slim, visceral novel power gains power from its subversive blurring of maternal intuition and its queering of parenthood.’
Greg Mania, The New York Times Book Review
‘The language of desire never stops vibrating off the page; Baltasar pans the mundane for gold, and offers those nuggets — these morsels of intimacy — in a way that grips and sates … Despite the displacement and disconnect endured by a delightfully complex protagonist whose anxiety-induced bons mots would surely kill on Twitter, the novel tugs at your heartstrings.’
Noel Gardner, Buzz Magazine
‘As with Permafrost, Baltasar’s protagonist is not unambiguously likeable but expresses her id in a sometimes chaotic, perhaps relatable manner. The translation skills of Julia Sanches have again been utilised here, too, and make for some remarkably visceral bursts of prose styling: both writers are standout talents.’