This month I am writing about the micro-state of Andorra. Situated high on the Pyrenees mountain range, this is a principality where the bishop of Urgell in Spain and the President of France share the title of co-princes. This odd little state in Europe is famous for being a ski country and tax haven. It receives about 12 million tourists every year whereas the resident population is only about 85000.
Source: “Location Andorra Europe” by Bosonic dressing – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Location_Andorra_Europe.png#/media/File:Location_Andorra_Europe.png
Due to the smallness of its size, geographical isolation and the unique socio-cultural situation, there are hardly any noteworthy authors in English, whereas the locally spoken Catalan has some well renowned authors.
There are two popular novels titled Andorra by Max Fisch as well as Peter Cameron which seem like the obvious choice. However I was glad to find out from various reviews that both these books have very little to do with the actual country and the description of the place is hardly genuine.
Hence I decided to go with Mr S and the Secrets of Andorra’s Box by the Irish journalist Paul Howard writing under the pseudonym Ross O’Carroll Kelly . The O’Carroll Kelly books are a bit of a cult classic. Both the genres of sports and humour are new for this series and I am delighted to discover them here.
It has to be mentioned, in fairness, that this story is more about the protagonist Ross’s life events and less about Andorra per se. However Andorra has an important place in the story’s context and the author seems genuinely excited about setting his tale in and around this tiny country.
The narrator Ross is an ex rugby jock who is muscular, easy on the eyes, a total ladies man and a bit thick on the whole. His favourite passtime is goofing off with his buddies whose characters are developed over the series. He is recently separated from his wife Sorcha because of his affair with the nanny of their daughter Honor. Ross still doesn’t seem to have gotten a hang of the fact and of his life. He has a son Ronan from a previous short-term relationship. When Ross is selected as the National Rugby Coach for Andorra and is to “spread the gospel of rugby around the world“, he is only too happy to take it.
The reader can simply picture Ross, with huge musculature, husky voice and Dublin accent using words like “stort” and “hort“. He doesn’t seem to take life too seriously and can be both incredibly kind and unbelievably cruel and insensitive. He still seems to be on the path to self discovery. However he is an amazing father as the stories of his kids and the Nigerian immigrant Immmaculata sponsored by Sorcha show us.
Ross actually sets foot in Andorra only after half the book is done. He feels its “basically a giant outdoor duty-free shop, where it seems to piss rain twenty four hours a day“. The author is taking as many jibes on the country as he is on his protagonist. At the same time he is keen to provide a glimpse of the place’s history, geography, weather and economy. The story takes place in the capital Andorra la Vella, on the banks of the river Valira where “everyone’s linked somehow“. At a boxing match there is a bunch of celebrities whom no one outside of Andorra knows. At one point Ross says to one of the rugby players, “Dude, its not even a proper country. Cheap aftershave and big mountains – you think that’s worth dying for?“. At the same time he seems fascinated with the beauty of the place and says “all these beautiful tunnels through the mountains and then the most extraordinary valley opens up, right in front of your eyes“.
The characters of Ross’s mother, who has had a sexual reawakening after menopause and father who was convicted for fraud – reminding of the popular TV show Arrested Development – and is recently out, keep the story interesting. I won’t give any clues towards the ending here, but the resolution of both the rugby match and the relationships in Ross’s life turn out to be quite unexpected and really funny. All in all, I am happy with my choice of reading for Andorra, although I will have to do something entirely different when it comes to Ireland!
Finally, a word about the means of reading this time. I got this book delivered to my iPhone and read it on the kindle app. The book itself was quite expensive and difficult to source. But the kindle app reading experience was quite good. The page rendering for the screen size was perfect and very readable. Kudos to Amazon!
Other options in Andorra:
the Basque Swallow – Leigh Daniels
Assigment in Andora – May Mackintosh