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Marvels & Tales 15.2 (2001) 229-232
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Primer amor. By Laura Espido Freire. Madrid: Ediciones Temas de hoy, 2000. 215 pp.
Love is arguably the central theme of most fairy tales. We grow up among handsome princes, enchanted princesses, eternal love, good fairies and evil witches. But what influence do fairy tales have on the rest of our lives? Laura Espido Freire is convinced that everything she sees around her is, effectively, a variation on a fairy tale. Primer amor, her latest book, explores the different types of first love in terms of those stereotypical fairy-tale characters who reside in the collective imagination, and with special emphasis on the role of the woman in these tales and in our patriarchal society. Fairy tales are one means of expressing dominant social values.
Espido Freire is a Spanish writer who is just twenty-six years old. She is probably one of Spain's best-selling and most published authors of recent times. Primer amor is her fifth book to be published in three years (not to mention works published in anthologies). Hermanita, her first published work, appeared in 1998, followed by Irlanda (1999). Her novel, Melocotones helados (Frozen Melons), published in the same year, won the forty-eighth Premio Planeta (she is the youngest woman writer to have been awarded this prestigious prize), and her novel Donde siempre es octubre appeared in 2000.
Primer amor is explicitly defined by the writer as an essay intended to disseminate her sociological and psychological observations. It deals with first love, the one which is eternal in memory but not in time. She suggests that "No se siente más amor que el primero rememorado una y otra vez" ("There is no greater love than the first, which is remembered time after time"). This love is not like the one in fairy tales; it is not happiness but suffering, something close to death: "Extraña esta vida en la que se ansía un momento que recuerda a la muerte, y se busca y se persigue a lo largo de toda la existencia" ("This strange life in which we yearn for a moment which reminds us of death, which we seek [End Page 229] and chase after throughout our lives"). The essay consists of an introduction, seven chapters about different kinds of love (shy, impossible, invisible, sinister, conventional, boy meets girl, and girl meets boy), chapters which in turn are subdivided into briefer sections, and a conclusion.
Espido Freire begins the book in an autobiographical mode, recounting her first disillusionment: the loss of her childhood paradise. The palace where she studied (destroyed by floods in 1983) is a metaphor for the enchanted, lost, longed-for world of childhood. In this chapter, she looks back to her first unattainable and wonderful loves, when love and suffering were not yet synonymous, and she could believe in ever-after. According to Espido Freire's theories, often reminiscent of Freud, those tales which we read on the first years of our life leave indelible traces on our adult lives. Abandoning her intimate, confidential tone, the author sets out what for her constitute the fundamental elements of fairy-tale narratives: the presence of the supernatural, the irrational, and magic. Death is not important, and the characters are archetypes. Those fairy tales which exerted an influence on her childhood are still part of her in her maturity, and she senses their presence all around. It is at this point that Espido Freire deliberately blurs the frontier between reality and fiction.
In the next seven chapters, taking as her point of departure the different stereotypes that permeate our childhood, she refers to those figures who people our everyday reality---namely the Hamlets, Sleeping Beauties, Snow Whites, and Brunhilds---and re-enact their roles in the twenty-first century. These figures are so well known to us, she maintains, they have practically become part of us: characters from fairy tales or canonical works of literature (Hamlet, Robin Hood), as well as mythological characters (Narcissus, Apollo). Likewise, she refers to historical characters (Princess Diana) and anecdotes that...