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Showing posts from 2017

Dangling Man

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Brighton Rock

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Gasoline

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The back cover of the Open Letter Books edition of Gasoline (Benzina is the original Catalan title) includes a quotation from the New York Times: ‘a gifted writer, he draws well on the rich tradition of Spanish surrealism’. Since the book concerns an artist (or rather, two artists) then if Spanish Surrealism refers to Miró, Dali, Massanet etc. then I can see what the reviewer may have meant. I have not read very much Catalan literature, however, and therefore cannot comment on whether the Surrealism referred to goes in that direction too. For me, the literary similarities are perhaps to certain French surrealists (such as Boris Vian’s Froth on the Daydream, 1947); or perhaps postmodern American fiction writers (such as Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49). In making these potentially misleading comparisons (my memory of Vian is ancient; Pynchon is much more challenging to read …) I should also say that Gasoline is a very original novel, and I can understand how it might have achieved a …

The Time of the Doves

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According to the introduction (Graywolf Press edition, 1986) Mercé Rodoreda started her career as a prolific writer with five novels by the age of about 28; by 1939 things changed dramatically. No only were Catalan books burned and Catalan newspapers suppressed, but the author herself went into exile and felt disconnected from her language and culture. In 1960, Rodereda returned to the novel form and penned this stream of consciousness novel, in the voice of the long-suffering Natalia from Barcelona. This is a life story which begins and ends with courtship; of Natalia and Quimet, and much later with Natalia’s daughter Rita and her love, Vincenḉ. This life cycle is interesting enough – on the basis of the close observations of domestic life and the relationship between the married couple (with Quimet the domineering, passionate kind – though not without interest in others). What makes it more captivating is the way that the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath enters the lives of the c…

Field of Honour

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Field of Honour was written by Max Aub in exile in Paris, May to August 1939, and published in Mexico in 1943. Between the writing and the publication – the author’s internment by the French and deportation to a Concentration Camp in Algeria. Although a Spanish national, he was denounced as a ‘German Jew’ and as ‘a notorious communist and active revolutionary’. More could be said about the novel and its author: suppressed during the Franco period, the novel did not receive its due attention in Spain during the author’s life (he died in 1973). These facts I have gleaned from the book's introduction.
Field of Honour centres on the life of one Rafael López Serrador, who grows up in the period between the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, and the ill-fated Second Republic. Serrador leaves his small town for Barcelona, where he finds work and then education through a worker’s institute and his own wide-reading of everything from Spanish poetry to Tolstoy. Much of the novel consists of re…

Any Human Heart - A Novel

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The subtitle ‘a novel’ is included because William Boyd’s Any Human Heart is presented like a scholarly edition of the diaries of Logan Gonzago Montstuart, complete with introductions to each of the separate diaries that make up Montstuart’s life. Indeed, at the end of the book, listed works by Montstuart include ‘Any Human Heart: The Intimate Journals of Logan Montstuart’. One would wish this at least of Boyd’s memorable character: that his life should extend beyond mere mortal days (or Boyd’s rendition …). In other words, the effect of reading this book is that the character does indeed appear to have lived. That is a remarkable feat, even if it is the staple trick of any writer.
Leaving Boyd out of all this for the moment, then, Montstuart starts his diaries while in his last year at Abbeyhurst College, where he shares various challenges with his two (lifelong) friends, Peter Scabius and Benjamin Leeping. Like Montstuart, Scabius is bound for Oxford University and then a life of wr…

The 7th Function of Language

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