56 pages 1 hour read

Carmen Laforet


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1945

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Summary and Study Guide


Carmen Laforet’s first novel, Nada, tells the coming-of-age story of Andrea, an orphan who moves from a convent in provincial Spain to the city of Barcelona. Published to widespread acclaim in 1945 when Laforet was just 23, the novel won the Premio Nadal literary prize. Known for its artful portrayal of the poverty, class stratification, and domestic struggles many families faced after the Spanish Civil War, Nada paints a realistic portrait of life under Francisco Franco’s rule without overt discussions of politics.

Plot Summary

The novel begins with Andrea leaving a sleepy remote Spanish province to attend university, having learned that the Spanish government has given her a full scholarship. She moves in with estranged family members living in her formerly well-off (but now impoverished) grandmother’s apartment on Calle de Aribau. They include her Aunt Angustias, a tyrannical Catholic woman; her Uncle Román, an eccentric, formerly renowned musician; her Uncle Juan, a failed painter who abuses his beautiful young wife, Gloria; and Gloria, a spirited young woman from a poor family, of whom Angustias disapproves. Upon moving in with her family, Andrea discovers that they’ve been forced to sell half of the home after her grandfather’s death, moving their belongings into a tight, cramped space. The household has fallen into disrepair, and is filled with cobwebs, dust, and piles of her grandmother’s fine furniture, which Gloria is selling off, piece-by-piece, to a local rag merchant.

The house is fraught with tension and fighting, often over old disagreements that have extended across many years. An undercurrent of artistic and romantic jealousy fuels Román and Juan’s fighting, since Román was once romantically involved with Gloria. Eventually, Angustias flees the home, moving into a convent to escape the fighting and evade her guilt over her own long-running, ill-fated affair with a married man.

Andrea learns about her family members’ suspicious activities. She follows her Uncle Juan as he pursues Gloria one night, arriving at her sister’s bar. There, they learn that most of the money Juan has supposedly made from selling his paintings has actually been earned by Gloria’s “gambling” at the bar, with the suggestion that said “gambling” is likely a cover for Gloria’s prostitution. Román, meanwhile, earns money by illegally selling goods on the black market.

At the university, Andrea befriends a wealthy and magnetic young woman named Ena. Though their difference in social status creates a slight impasse between the two girls, they become very close. Ena’s parents often have Andrea over for dinner, and Andrea frequently joins Ena on outings with her boyfriend, Jaime. Though Ena loves Jaime, she eventually breaks off her relationship with him to become the lover of Andrea’s uncle, Román. Later in the novel, Ena’s mother reveals that she used to date Román when she was a young woman. Andrea eventually learns that Ena’s relationship with Román is a means of exacting revenge for his mistreatment of her mother years ago.

As Ena’s relationship with Román distances her from Andrea, Andrea turns to a new friend, Pons. Pons socializes with a network of young bohemian artists and philosophers, many of whom come from privileged upbringings. As Andrea becomes closer to the group, she realizes that Pons is romantically attracted to her, and that she could potentially use him to escape living with her family. Ultimately, she decides to separate herself from this collective of young men, whom she comes to view as pretentious and disappointing.

Toward the end of Nada, Ena dissolves her false relationship with Román, and Gloria reports his illegal activities to the Francoist police. Broken-hearted by Ena’s rejection and unable to bear being arrested, Román commits suicide.

Ena moves with her family to Madrid. Soon after, Andrea receives a message inviting her to move in with them, which she accepts. The novel ends as Andrea departs her life in Barcelona for a new city, echoing the way she departed for Barcelona at the beginning of the novel.

True to its title—nada means “nothing” in Spanish—the novel rejects the optimistic meaning-making impulses traditionally associated with the bildungsroman genre for a more open-ended existentialist perspective. Through her process of self-exploration, Andrea sidesteps numerous traditional hallmarks of female development—including Angustias’s etiquette lessons and the potential of a romantic relationship with Pons—instead independently wandering through the streets of Barcelona. As critic Alberto Manguel remarks in his review from The Guardian, the streets of Nada are akin to “a maze that has no [center].” At the center “of Andrea’s maze,” writes Manguel, “lies the void that gives the book its title.”