‘Con Agata en Estamboul’ (With Agatha, in Istanbul) by Cristina Fernández Cubas

Although I have been aware of her for a few years, I hadn’t read any Fernández Cubas until staff in the cultural office of the Spanish Embassy in London recommended her to me. She is known as a writer of fantasy in Spain, but her stories might better be described as unsettling, taking place in realities that are other-worldly and may be permeated by unexplained influences. Her taste for mystery began in childhood, whenFernández Cubas’s brother would tell her stories from Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie.

In this story the narrator travels with her husband to Istanbul for a two-week stay at the Pera Palace, where Christie famously was a regular guest (always staying in room 411). That room is thought to hold answers to the author’s mysterious disappearance in 1926, after a clairvoyant guided investigators to the discovery of a key, under its floorboards, in 1979.

From the start, this story’s characters seem to have entered a parallel world. Istanbul itself, which is permanently shrouded in fog, seems barely to exist; they can’t pick out any of its famous sights. Moreover, the story’s narrator has just turned forty and is troubled by her own identity, just as Christie was at the time of her disappearance. When her husband keeps bumping into a beautiful acquaintance, she becomes increasingly uneasy, especially when a sprained ankle hobbles her and keeps her from joining them. This is not only a strange, compulsive read, but a strong argument for having more of Fernández Cubas available in English. At present one selection of her stories, Nona’s Room, is available, published by Peter Owen.

Published in Todos los Cuentos, Tusquets, 2009