This cautionary tale, set in the British ex-pat community in Spain 2008/9, follows the failed dreams of graphic designer, Anna. Anna’s London career was just taking off when she met dickhead artist Michael. But Michael “declared he’d had enough of London,” and suggests a move to Spain. Anna is initially reluctant, but she flies out, finds a finca, and buys it. Naturally she has to sell her flat, but Michael can’t sell his as it turns out his “mum’s company” owns it. So Anna plonks all of HER money, and later an inheritance, into this money-pit finca.
When the novel opens, Anna and Michael are living in the finca and entertaining two snotty houseguests, old chums of Michael’s from his Oxford uni days. The visit serves to illustrate to Anna just how she and Michael have grown apart.
As Anna’s savings were being converted into septic tanks and concrete underlay and eyelet curtains, his feelings towards her had changed. There were no huge rows, nothing to grasp onto; but his disdain could be felt like a drop in temperature.
Poor Anna, who didn’t realise that the relationship had an expiration date, wakes up one morning and finds a note from Michael telling her he’s back off to London and where to find the car in the airport’s long-term parking. Charming. Anna isn’t doing well after the break-up. For one thing, she’s been dumped, but she’s been dumped after jettisoning her career, and ploughing all her savings into a remote money pit in Spain. To top if off, the financial crisis means she can’t sell; she’s stuck–along with an entire desperate ex-pat community who see their dream lives being flushed down the toilet as the bottom falls out of the real estate market. It’s probably no wonder that Anna turns to drink….
2009 finds Anna running a bar, but it’s more that’s she’s ‘minding’ a bar as there’s no real tourism, and members of the British ex-pat community are skint. So when a man appears and offers to rent Anna’s finca for 600 Euros a month, she jumps at it, no questions asked. …
Under the Sun shows the inherent unhealthiness of the British ex-pat community. They mingle only with each other, don’t speak the lingo, and don’t like the locals (a mutual feeling). The entire area is overrun with illegal African immigrants who are smuggled in and then harnessed into servitude through debt to their smugglers. The desperation of the British ex pats, who feel that the Africans don’t belong, rises from them like a bad smell. The ex-pats juggle throwing more money into these properties to attract buyers in this competitive market against … why bother? But then who has extra money to spend? They collectively, eagerly, anticipate someone coming along to buy their Spanish properties so that they can escape.
She hadn’t cleaned up since the last time she had customers in, three days before Christmas, when the expats had gathered to watch the Spanish national lottery on TV. They’d all entered as a group, with a single ticket, and expectations were high. This, they were sure, would be the thing that saved them, that would wipe out the problem of their houses being worthless and the effects of the rotten euro on their pensions.
In their wake, ex-pats leave behind their abandoned, houses, animals and possessions. Those who remain, mostly over 50, have car boot sales, and even while desperate to sell their homes, they maintain the fiction that they ‘are living the life’ and to talk about wanting to return to the UK is treason. Under the Sun explores the inherent unhealthiness within the insular community. The ex-pats have no idea what is going on under their noses. They have no clue about local politics. They have no clue how the locals dislike them. Wrapped in their own warped little world, they somehow think they have brought the UK with them, and while they have imported their culture, that’s about the extent of it. Anna, who is in a muddled affair, doesn’t grasp the delicacy of her position. This is a very entertaining read. IMO Anna’s behaviour was ill-advised and in real life, she probably would have ended up dead. But the value here is in the remarkable sense of atmosphere–all these dreams turned to the worst possible outcome.