Spanish writer José Overjero 2013 Premio Alfaguara-winning novel, La invención del amor (The Invention of Love or perhaps Love's Invention might be even more suitable), has pretensions, according to the writer, of being a love story for those who hate love stories. It certainly is not a standard-issue, boilerplated romance plot, but yet there are enough familiar elements to it to appeal just as much to those who do like the basic love story plot as to those like myself who prefer something, anything, other than boy/girl meets girl/boy and they fall in love and crazy stuff happens on their way to life-long happiness.
The premise revolves around a man, Samuel, who is somewhat cynical. As he observes foot traffic flowing beneath his balcony one day, he receives a call saying that a woman named Clara has died in an accident. Although he does not know her, Samuel attends her funeral, where he encounters her sister, Carina. Samuel conjures up a fictitious relationship with the dead Clara, playing a game with Carina that subtly shifts from a spur-of-the-moment fit of deceptive curiosity toward something much more profound. The main body of the novel focuses on this game and its eventual resolution.
Ovejero easily could have constructed this tale along the lines of modern sit-comedies, with a stumbling, bumbling male protagonist (antagonist?) getting caught up in his web of lies before becoming so flustered that he inexplicably manages to win the affection (or earn a slap to the face) of the woman whose time he has so occupied. However, Ovejero eschews this approach. Instead, Samuel is an adroit manipulator, albeit one who finds himself affected by what he is making up and how this in turn is affecting Carina. Ovejero expertly develops two fascinating characters here (if one counts the dead Clara as seen through the tales Samuel devises) and in doing so, there is an odd sort of "thriller" quality to this tale, as the reader may find herself eagerly anticipating what will occur next.
Ovejero's narrative works because not only does the plot feel like it is moving fast even when care is taken to develop both scene and character, but that it contains a plausible yet surprising twist to it that makes the time spent focusing on these characters and on Samuel's inventions worthwhile. It is so well-structured that the narrative improves even more on a second reading, as I discovered when I re-read it recently after nearly a year since my initial read. The end result is a seemingly-tidy tale that contains a richness to the characterizations, an interesting take on a well-worn theme, with writing that is very good without being too ostentatious. One of the more intimate novels among the Premio Alfaguara winners.