Narcís Oller: La bogeria (The Madness)

The latest addition to my website is Narcís Oller‘s La bogeria (The Madness). This is a short novel set in the late nineteenth century about a Catalan engineer and landowner called Daniel Serralonga whom we watch slowly slipping into insanity. His parents soon fell out with his mother becoming very religious and his father a gambler. The father will disown Daniel’s younger sisters, saying he is not their father, so they are brought up by an aunt. The father will later kill himself. We are following the story through the eyes of an unnamed narrator, a lawyer, who is a friend of Daniel. He sees Daniel intermittently and each time there is some new episode dragging him towards instability – imprisonment for hitting a police commander, his obsession with General Prim and then conspiracy theories when the General is assassinated, a major inheritance dispute with his sisters, stock market problems. Each time we see him, he is looking worse and behaving more and more erratically. It is a delightful short novel, mocking, funny but also showing a certain amount of sympathy for a man who clearly cannot cope. The book is published by a new press – Fum d’Estampa Press – specialising in Catalan literature and I am looking forward to reading more of their publications.

Mercè Rodoreda: Jardí vora el mar (Garden by the Sea)

The latest addition to my website is Mercè Rodoreda‘s Jardí vora el mar (Garden by the Sea). This is a beautiful book, narrated by the gardener to a summer residence, serving successive families. We follow him as he carefully and lovingly tends the plants and garden while the well-to-do – the owner and their guests – come up from Barcelona for the summer. They and, indeed, the
other staff, have their various problems – love and romance, mental health, family – which he quietly observes and, on occasion, is called in to advise and assist with. However, he is at his happiest tending his plants or sitting in his small cottage, reminiscing about his late wife, while around him problems increase and even turn tragic.

Catalan Literature Part 2

I have now read twenty Catalan novels in a row, by twenty different writers. I cannot say that these novels were typical of the Catalan novel but nevertheless, I shall try and draw a few conclusions from my reading.

Definitely a Civil War novel

1) Catalans are still somewhat obsessed with the Spanish Civil War and Franco. This is not surprising, not least because other Spanish writers are too. The Spanish Civil War is still being fought in the Catalan and Spanish novel, even though it ended nearly eighty years ago. Presumably all combatants in that war are dead and there are probably relatively few people alive today who were children back then. Nevertheless it has certainly not been forgotten. Given that the American Civil War is still being fought, both in literature and in the real world, over one hundred and fifty years after it ended, we can expect to have more Catalan and Spanish Civil War novels for some time to come
2) Catalan writers like looking back at their past, by which I mean before the Civil War and Franco.
3) Not all Catalan were on the pro-Republic, anti-Franco side. At least three of these novels featured Catalans that supported Franco.
4) Humour does not seen to be a big part of the Catalan novel. Most of these were deadly serious. This review and this article indicate that there is Catalan humour but I barely found it in these novels.
5) Catalans like long novels. Several of these novels were quite long.

A favourite though 1000 pages long

If I have to pick a favourite, that would not be difficult. Surprisingly, and this is entirely coincidence, the last two I read were, I thought, the best, i.e. Jaume Cabré‘s Jo confesso (Confessions) and Mercè Rodoreda‘s La mort i la primavera (Death in Spring), both available in English. However, I also enjoyed Lluís-Anton BaulenasAlfons XIV : un crim d’estat [Alfonso XIV: A Crime of State], which is not available in English. The Cabré did have some humour in it; the other two definitely did not.

So now back to the rest of the world but I am already planning next year’s marathon.

Jaume Cabré: Jo confesso (Confessions)

The latest addition to my website is Jaume Cabré‘s Jo confesso (Confessions). This is the final book in my 2018 Catalan marathon. It is also the longest (around 1000 pages) and probably the best. It tells the story of a father and son, Felix and Adrià Ardèval, both obsessed with collecting rare manuscripts and other items, a rare and very valuable 18th century violin, whose owners all too often die a violent death, and the nature of evil, illustrated by the Holocaust (specifically two of the doctors working at Auschwitz) and, to a lesser extent, the Spanish Inquisition. We follow how Felix moved from being a possible priest to to becoming a ruthless and morally challenged collector and how his son tried to avoid being his father but did not entirely succeed. We also follow numerous stories, both set in the present and past, which examine the nature of evil and the moral flaws we all have. It is a superbly written book, unfinished according to the author.

Mercè Rodoreda: La mort i la primavera (Death in Spring)

The latest addition to my website is Mercè Rodoreda‘s La mort i la primavera (Death in Spring). Though Rodoreda wrote this book at around the same time as she wrote La plaça del Diamant (UK: The Pigeon Girl; US: The Time of the Doves), it was not published till after her death. It is now considered one of her best works. It tells of a remote village with strange customs, rituals and behaviours and threats both from Nature and a shadowy group of people called the Caramens. The villagers have to die (essentially, be killed) in a strange and unpleasant ritual and generally have to follow other rituals and customs which seem to us cruel and/or bizarre. Our fourteen-year old hero is a victim of these rituals. Rodoreda clearly put a lot into this work as it is thoroughly original and, at least in part, is intended to condemn totalitarianism.

Najat El Hachmi: L’últim patriarca (The Last Patriarch)

The latest addition to my website is Najat El Hachmi‘s L’últim patriarca (The Last Patriarch). Najat El Hachmi may not seem a Catalan name and it is not. El Hachmi was born in Morocco but her family moved to Catalonia when she was eight and Catalan was the language she learned to read and write in. Her first book was called I, Too, Am Catalan. This novel tells the story of Mimoun, the eponymous last patriarch, who is a violent, drunken, unfaithful, cruel, bullying and controlling man. It is narrated by his daughter. The first part is before her birth, from his birth to her birth, and tells of how he became as obnoxious as he did and how he married the narrator’s mother. The second part, set in Barcelona, tells of his continued bad behaviour but also shows how the narrator coped both with him (and her mother) and with living in a country which, in many respects, was foreign. It won the prestigious Ramon Llull Prize in 2008.

Lluïsa Forrellad: Siempre en capilla [Always In The Chapel]

The latest addition to my website is Lluïsa Forrellad‘s Siempre en capilla [Always In The Chapel]. Forrellad wrote this in Spanish in 1953 (for which she won the Nadal Prize) and then did not write another novel for fifty-three years, her three later novels all appearing in Catalan. It tells the stories of three English doctors working a in a poor, fictitious city in England called Spick, trying to cope with a diphtheria epidemic. They are developing a serum but are unsure of its effectiveness and are concerned with the morality of testing it on animals other than rats and, of course, of testing it on humans (which they finally do). We follow their stressful lives, the multiple deaths of both rich and poor in Spick and their issues with morality. It is a fine novel which, sadly, has not been translated into English.

Jordi Puntí: Maletes perdudes (Lost Luggage)

The latest addition to my website is Jordi Puntí‘s Maletes perdudes (Lost Luggage). It tells the story of four half-brothers, each from a different country, who were unaware of each other’s existence and who come together in Barcelona to learn more about their lost father and one another. We follow the story of their father, Gabriel, who worked for an international moving company and met and impregnated their respective mothers, as well as his fellow movers and partners in crime (they stole freely from the items they moved). At the beginning of the book he seems to have disappeared but left ample documentation about his colourful life, the four mothers and the four (possibly five) sons. It is a well-written and very lively story as the four learn about their father and one another.

Maria de la Pau Janer: Pasiones romanas [Roman Passions]

The latest addition to my website is Maria de la Pau Janer‘s Pasiones romanas [Roman Passions]. This tells the story of six women from Palma, Majorca, who all have men problems, all losing at least one man, either by death or because he left her (usually for another woman). They also all end up or pass through Rome. The framing story is of Ignacio, a married man, who finds a wallet dropped by another passenger going on the flight to Rome, which contains a photo of the woman he loved and left ten years ago. He now decides that he wants her back. It is grim, serious and intense, with no humour, just a story about how romantic relationships are generally doomed to failure but friendship might be a viable alternative.

Joan Perucho: Les històries naturals (Natural History)

The latest addition to my website is Joan Perucho‘s Les històries naturals (Natural History). This is a spoof of the vampire story, clearly influenced by Hollywood/Hammer Horror, set in the First Carlist War (1830s). We follow the story of Antoni de Montpalau, a learned aristocrat, who takes the liberal side in the Carlist wars. He is interested in natural history, investigating various exotic and non-existent species, before setting out on the trail of a 700-year old vampire masquerading as a Carlist guerrilla, called The Owl, who is terrorising a local village and helping the Carlist cause. He makes common cause with the historical Ramón Cabrera, the enemy and, in real life, a very nasty man. It is all great fun and the ghosts of Max Shreck, Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee would have enjoyed it.