Vermeer's Milkmaid: And Other Stories

Manuel Rivas

translated from the Galician by Jonathan Dunne
Harvill Press 2002
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003
The sixteen stories in Vermeer's Milkmaid cover a broad range in subject, mood and form. In some, violence plays a key role: a bank-robber in love screws up a heist, or a quiet village is abruptly transformed by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (in "Butterfly's Tongue", adapted for film along with two other stories in this collection). Others are less outwardly dramatic: in the title piece, Vermeer's painting makes the narrator see his mother in a new light. Many of the stories draw on folk tales or the fantastic, and some verge on the farcical: in one various household items debate the murder they've just witnessed, while another is a cartoon-like piece about rival cartoonists sponsored by rival sausage companies.

The stories are genuinely short — the collection is only one hundred and twenty pages long — but they pack more in than some novels, and linger in the memory. Manuel Rivas is deft and precise with his psychological sketches: no matter how unusual his characters are, they never seem implausible or out of place. I only bought Vermeer's Milkmaid for the novelty of a translation from the Galician, and because Harvill is a reliable publisher, but it is one of the finest short story collections I have read for a long time.

December 2003

External links:
- buy from
Related reviews:
- Manuel Rivas - In the Wilderness
- more Spanish literature
- more short fiction
- books published by Harvill Press
%T Vermeer's Milkmaid
%S And Other Stories
%A Rivas, Manuel
%M Galician
%F Dunne, Jonathan
%I Harvill Press
%D 2002 [1995]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1860469302
%P 120pp