New Book of Literary Essays from José María Merino: Ficción perpetua

The Spanish writer and critic, member of the Real Academa, José María Merino has a new collection of literary essays out. I’ve liked his approach to writing, typically what I find in introductions to collections of short stories. You can read a description of the book here.

Ficción perpetua se divide en dos partes. La primera se abre con el trabajo titulado “Diez jornadas en la isla”, donde su autor nos ofrece una selección de libros que salvaría en un naufragio, para continuar con meditaciones sobre el cuento, centrándose especialmente en la tradición oral -a veces despreciada de manera injusta y torpe, como bien subraya-, la lectura, los libros de caballerías y El Quijote, la literatura fantástica y de ciencia-ficción o el mestizaje literario.

En la segunda parte, aborda la exploración de varios escritores y obras, como Chéjov, Maupassant, Álvaro Cunqueiro, Enrique Jardiel Poncela, el Unamuno cuentista -una de las facetas menos estudiadas del autor de Niebla-, Dickens y su David Copperfield, o el Manuscrito encontrado en Zaragoza, de Jan Potocki, entre otros, terminando con el ensayo “Bibliofobia”, en el que trata de las muchas amenazas que se ciernen sobre el libro, muchas veces desgraciadamente materializadas en la destrucción o la censura en diferentes épocas y circunstancias.

 

José María Merino Won the Premio Nacional de Narrativa with ‘El río del Edén’

José María Merino has won the Premio Nacional de Narrativa with ‘El río del Edén’. José María Merino is  a short story writer and novelist. Earlier this year I reviewed the collection La realidad quebradiza and on the whole was interesting. El Pais has some coverage of the victory:

El río del Edén (Alfaguara), de José María Merino, se ha alzado con el Premio Nacional de Narrativa, concedido por el Ministerio de Cultura, Educación y Deporte. “Es la novela más realista de las que he escrito hasta ahora y en ella tanto los personajes como el escenario en el que se desarrolla la trama cobran vital importancia. En el cuento — género en el que se ha prodigado— el sueño o el ensueño está muy paliado por la realidad”, explicó Merino (A Coruña, 1942), en una entrevista con este diario.

Read more at:

El novelista gallego obtiene el máximo galardón concedido a una obra por el Ministerio de Cultura

José María Merino & His New Book Profiled

El Pais has a brief profile of José María Merino and his newest book, El río del Edén. I only recently have been reading his short stories (see my review) and have found his work interesting. This book popped up on a lot of the Spanish best books of the year lists for 2012.

La vida de Merino siempre ha estado rodeada de palabras y sin ellas se haría difícil su existencia. “Ellas hacen lo que somos, si no nos pasaría como el gato —subido sobre la mesa el felino nos mira de reojo durante unos segundos como si entendiese que hablamos de él— que es incapaz de decir nada. Las palabras son la conciencia, el saber, el conocimiento”. ¿Se ha enfadado con ellas algunas veces? “Claro, e incluso me he enfurecido muchísimo. El problema de dedicarte a la literatura es que escribes lo que quieres decir, pero a veces, más de la que uno quisiera, se resisten. Cuando cojo mi primera novela publicada en 1976 —Novela de Andrés Choz (Novelas y Cuentos)— me doy cuenta de que el primer capítulo lo tendría que cambiar entero y cada vez que hay una nueva edición siempre hay algo que retoco. Con el tiempo vas aprendiendo. Antes de comenzar El río del Edén pensé mucho cómo debía escribir esta obra hasta que finalmente me decidí por la segunda persona. Ahora estoy satisfecho porque creo que ha sido un acierto”.

En la novela, Merino narra la historia de una pareja, Daniel y Tere y de su hijo Silvio. Lo hace a través de un viaje que realizan padre e hijo por los parajes del Alto Tajo, lugares que el matrimonio había recorrido de jóvenes. En este recorrido por la vida se agolpan los recuerdos de amor, traición y arrepentimiento. “Antes de escribir la novela mi esposa y yo realizamos un recorrido por esos parajes y en una de las jornadas nos perdimos. Fue una experiencia inolvidable hasta que descubrimos dónde habíamos dejado estacionado el coche”. Se nota que el escritor está satisfecho con esta novela hasta tal punto que confiesa con media sonrisa, a pesar de su semblante serio, “has acertado Merino. El Tajo es un río fantástico. Lleno de mitología y leyenda”.

14 Critics on the 5 Best Spaish Fiction of 2012

This will be the last time I write on this subject, but La Nave de los Locos  has a post that compiles the top 5 best books published in Spain from 14 different critics. It is a nice long list. The usual suspects are there (Marias, Vila-Matas, Cercas) but there are some that aren’t known that well outside of Spain. Enjoy

One of the 14 lists:

Luis Mateo Díez, La cabeza en llamas, Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de Lectores
Luis Landero, Absolución, Tusquets.
Ricardo Menéndez Salmón, Medusa, Seix Barral
José María Merino, El río del Edén, Alfaguara
Clara Usón, La hija del Este, Seix Barral
ÁNGEL BASANTA (El Cultural. El Mundo)

La realidad quebradiza: Antología de cuentos (The Fragile Reality) by José María Merino – A Review

cubierta_MERINO_IMPRENTALa realidad quebradiza: Antología de cuentos
(The Fragile Reality: An Anthology of Short Stories)
José María Merino
Páginas de Espuma, 2012, pg 262

José María Merino’s La realidad quebradiza: Antología de cuentos is an anthology of short stories from a writer who in his fiction has explored the fantastic as a way to break open the fragile reality surrounds and paradoxically for something so ephemeral traps us. While not particularly well known in the English speaking world, he has published a steady stream of fiction since 1976 including novels, short stories, and children’s books, and has won several awards, is a member of the Real Academia Española, and amongst fans of the short story is a respected figure. Although he has not exclusively focused on the fantastic, it is, perhaps, what he is best known for, with stories ranging in style from horror to science fiction to meta works that hearken to Borges, Kafka and Cortazar. With La realidad quebradiza: Antología de cuentos, Páginas de Espuma has put together a career spaning overview of his work amongst the short form that not only includes a large selection of short and micro stories, but a lengthy if rather strange introduction to his work from Juan Jacinto Muñoz Rengel, and a long interview with Merino that examine his approaches to writing short fiction. It is probably as a good an introduction as one could ask for.

The fantastic is difficult material to work with: too obvious and you have the literary equivalent of a Twilight Zone episode where the camera changes at the last second and you say, ‘oh, I get it now,’ but then never return to the episode because the shock has worn off; too subtle and it ventures into the purely symbolic (perhaps surrealistic), where nothing has any relation to reality. Merino’s own working definition of the fantastic would be helpful before going on much farther:

Coincido con una definición moderna de lo fantástico de Roger Caillois: una ruptura estrepitosa del orden habitual, textualmente <<una irrupción de lo inadmisible en el seno inalterable de la legalidad cotidiana>>. Otroa cosa sería lo maravilloso, en que lo aparentemente inadmisible resulta la regla general, como los cuentos de hadas o El señor de los anillos, pero sin duda no estoy dotado para ello, pues a la hora de escribir, la realidad está en mí demasiado al acecho.

I agree with Roger Caillois’ modern definition of the fantastic: a resounding rupture of habitual order of things, textually “a burst of the impermissible in the unalterable breast of the routine laws of everyday.” Something altogether different would be the marvelous where the apparently impermissible is the rule, such as in fairy tales or The Lord of the Rings, but without a doubt I’m not blessed with that skill because when it comes time to write, reality is lying in wait for me too much.

For Merino, the fantastic is that little explosion of unreality in an otherwise real world that opens new perspectives on reality. What it isn’t, is fantasy which is more concerned with its own fictive reality. It is an important distinction because the interplay between reality, which is often described in a realist tradition, and the fantastical can occasionally seem jarring. However, the shock of the rupture in the habitual that he mentions usually overcomes the Twilight Zone moment. And as you will see, there is a great fluidity in his writing that can make the occasional disappointment worth reading.

El niño lobo del cine Mari (The Wolf Child of the Mari Theater) is perhaps the best story in the collection in terms of a pure mix of a narrative and the fantastic. One day when an old movie theater is the process of destruction, the construction workers find a little boy amongst the ruins. It turns out he has been missing for 30 years yet has no aged a day since he disappeared. It is a mystery, but despite all pleas to tell his story the boy won’t explain what happened. In desperation, the doctor looking after the boy takes him to another theater. It would stand to reason he likes movies. The doctor watches him carefully at first, but caught up in the movie she doesn’t see him go behind the screen and enter the movie where he disappears again. Here, Merino mixes the two streams of reality, that of the everyday and that of the cinema, locating our dreams not just in the films themselves, but in the portals to them, as if they formed a kind of collective memory that lasts as long as the movie does. Moreover, he expands the idea of a fiction not as something that you only observe, but as something you participate in and extend. It is that extension of the story, or the bifurcation of the story into multiple paths, that reappears throughout the book.

You can see that bifurcation La casa de los dos portales (The House With two Entrances). In the story a group of boys break into an old abandoned mansion. After exploring the house they find a small passage way to an a room that has its own door to the exterior. They go through it and head to their respective homes. But nothing is right. Family members who were dead are alive or vice a versa; homes are not kept in the same ways. In short, it is a parallel world, one that is terrifying to the boys. That parallelism also links back to the idea of the double, of the other self, a classic trope in Spanish language fiction, but here it extends to a whole world.

Both stories come from his collection Cuentos del reino secreto (Stories from the Secret Kingdom) published in 1982. They show an interest in stories where the line between reality and the fantastic exists, but is not a commented on within the text. In his latter works, his short stories are much more open to direct introspection of the limits of reality. In El viajero perdido (The Lost Traveler) and Bifurcaciones (Bifurcations) he explores the way linear construction of reality is really a series of forking paths (to quote Borges) one takes, but are also mental paths one takes as they construct the narrative for themselves when they remember.  El viajero perdido follows a writer as he tries to create a story about a traveler who he stumbles on one night. The story though twists between what the writer struggles to write and the trip his wife is having. With each new strange encounter he comes up with it is mirrored in his wife’s world. As he brings the story to conclusion she comes closer to home. And with in the wife’s world she comes across the traveler that first promoted him to write the story, bringing the different bifurcations of story together. Merino leaves the story open as to what will happen, as if stories can never be finished.

In Bifurcaciones, a middle aged man is invited to a college reunion. He begins to wonder what ever happened to a girl, Pilar, he had once been infatuated with. He wanders down by where she used to live and he runs in to her. Feeling lucky, they spend some time together and he thinks his dreams have come true. Then she begins to ask him why he never wrote after ‘that summer?’ He has no idea of what has happened, but she creates a whole different life they led together. Yet he begins to believe it, rewriting his past. Yet when he finally goes to the reunion she’s not there and yet another bifurcations of the past occur. Merino places layer after layer of bifurcations so that man is rewriting his past and going through memories of events he never had. With each memory he recreates his whole history summed up towards the end of the story when he tries to make sense of the differing stories he is living.

Su esfuerzo por esclarecer la contradcción de aquellos veranos contrapuestos le hizo comprender que el encuentro en el vestíbulo era un misterioso punto de bifurcación, donde su memoria parecía titubear, aunque al cabo siguiese con más seguridad el camino que lo lleveaba a un período de angustiosa apatía, a sus primeros empleos, a la vinculaión con el bufete de su tío Jaime, en una ciudad del sur, al encuentro de Pilar y todo lo que, desembocando en el día que recibió la invitactión de Carlos Campoy, parecía formar la urdimbre verdadera de su vida durante aquellos veinticinoc años.

His effort to clear up the contradiction of those opposing summers made him understand that the meeting in the vestibule was a mysterious point of bifurcation where his memory seemed to hesitate, although after following with more certainty the road that took him to a period of agonizing apathy, to his first jobs, to his joining his uncle Jaime’s firm in a southern city, to the meeting with Pilar and everything that flowing from the day that he received the invitation from Carlos Campoy, seemed to form the true plot of his life during those twenty five years.

Finally, it would be remiss if a few comments about his language were overlooked. In more than a few stories the role of language itself is the center of story and even in one story when a man looses his ability not only to speak, but think in words, he disappears from reality. So for a writer with such wide ranging interests it would be natural that he prose have a certain power to it. In Papilio Siderum, a story that reworks Chuang Tzu’s story of the butterfly where a man dreams he is a butterfly then wakes as a man is unable to tell the distinction between the two. In Merino’s telling the story takes on a deeper and wider celebration of the paradoxes of memory and he captures both the transitory nature of memory, but the beauty in it to (sorry no translation; I’m out of time).

Intentaré empezar diciendo que, después de dejar la terraza, nos fuimos cada uno a nuestro cuarto, y que yo me encontraba desvelado, porque la presencia de Elisa haviía despertado en mí el enardecimiento de los veranos de la adolescencia, aquel tiempo en que hasta la propia luz y los olores del día eran capaces de provocar en mi ánimo una sucesión de impresiones indefinibles y hasta contradictorias, un tempr confuso la luz implacable del mediodía, que a su vez despertaba en los arbustos esos aromas secos tan estimulantes de la placidez, o cierta euforia la larga luz del atardecer, cuando sin embargo el olor humedo de los parados me incitaba a senir la congoja de alguna pérdida que no podía indentificar, y en cada momento y en cada paraje una conciencia tiubeante, que ya no tenía la capacidad de embeleso de la infancia pero que tampoco podía apoyarse en esas seguridades que al parecer eran privilegio de los adultos.

While every story in La realidad quebradiza: Antología de cuentos didn’t excite me as these did (a couple were too much in the ghost story vein, something I’m not much interested in), on the whole is a successful mix of the fantastic and reality, and the majority of the stories are fascinating reads. The selection of these short stories and micro stories, almost prose poems at times, which I didn’t even have a chance to discuss, leaves me wondering what other intriguing work remains in the volumes that these stories were selected from. Merino is definitely a maestro of the fantastic and Páginas de Espuma has put together an excellent collection to demonstrate that.

Best Books of the Year Round up: Spanish Language Press

Here is my not comprehensive list of best books of the year compiled by the various Spanish language presses of note.

Revista Ñ breaks their lists into 5 sections: Argentine narratives, foreign narratives, essays, poetry, and various. Below are the Argentine novels. The Juan José Saer is an unfinished collection of drafts and pieces. It is on the list, but I’m doubtful. If they hadn’t made mention of Steven King in the write up, Luciano Lamberti’s stories sound interesting. Leopoldo Brizuela’s novel won the Alfaguara this year and sounds interesting too.

  • El viento que arrasa de Selva Almada (Mardulce)
  • Papeles de trabajo de Juan José Saer (Seix Barral)
  • Una misma noche de Leopoldo Brizuela (Alfaguara)
  • El amor nos destrozará de Diego Erlan (Tusquets)
  • Borgestein de Sergio Bizzio (Mondadori)
  • El loro que podía adivinar el futuro de Luciano Lamberti (Nudista)
  • Canción de la desconfianza de Damian Selci (Eterna Cadencia)

From El Páis comes several lists, including best translated book (there’s no shame in that over there and always worth a look to see what they think is important in foreign literature). The El Páis edition also includes a Saer book, but this one looks more promising, his complete short stories: Juan José Saer Cuentos completos (El Aleph). I’m not familiar with Luis Landero, their number one, but the others on the list are old standbys and I’m a little dubious if they are really the best of the year. I have read some good reviews of the Cercas book though.

From ABC in Spain we have a list that doesn’t really catch my eye. It is very heavy on fascism, nazis and war. I’m not sure where their head has been this year. I will say they have picked from a wide range of publishers. I think most are small press. (nod to Moleskine) Bonus coverage of the critics talking about why they chose certain books.

  • Contra toda esperanza, Nadiezhda Mandelstam (Acantilado).
  • Malaparte. Vidas y leyendas, Maurizio Serra (Tusquets).
  • Continente salvaje, Keith Lowe (Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de Lectores).
  • Guardianas nazis. El lado femenino del mal, Mónica González Álvarez (EDAF).
  • Noches azules, Joan Didion (Mondadori).
  • Algún día este dolor te será útil, Peter Cameron (Libros del Asteroide).
  • El diablo a todas horas, Donald Ray Pollock (Libros del Silencio).
  • La cápsula del tiempo, Miqui Otero (Blackie Books).
  • ¿Por qué nos gustan las guapas?, Todo Rafael Azcona en La Codorniz (Pepitas de calabaza y Fulgencio Pimentel).
  • Me hallará la muerte, Juan Manuel de Prada (Destino).

From La Vanguardia in Barcelona we have the bonus list of the best in Catalan. But since I only speak Spanish I’ll leave that to you to investigate. There are some of the usual names here (Marias, Cercas, Vila-Matas). The Lusi Landero from El Páis’s list made it to the list. Andres Neuman was listed, too. I’m looking forward to the book. I already have my copy and will be reading it in the near future.  Juan Villoro’s new novel made it on to the list. I’ve been on the fence with the reviews I’ve heard of it. He always strikes me as more of a non fiction writer. Perhaps if I read the book I might change my mind.

Título: El país imaginado
Autor: Eduardo Berti (Buenos Aires, 1964)
Editorial: Impedimenta

Título: Aire de Dylan
Autor: Enrique Vila-Matas (Barcelona, 1948)
Editorial: Seix Barral

Título: Perros que ladran en el sótano
Autor: Olga Merino (Barcelona, 1965)
Editorial: Alfaguara

Título: Mala índole
Autor: Javier Marías (Madrid, 1951)
Editorial: Alfaguara

Título: Lo que cuenta es la ilusión
Autor: Ignacio Vidal-Folch (Barcelona, 1956)
Editorial: Destino

Título: Absolución
Autor: Luis Landero (Alburquerque, 1948)
Editorial: Tusquets

Título: Las leyes de la frontera
Autor: Javier Cercas (Ibahernando, 1962)
Editorial: Mondadori

Título: Arrecife
Autor: Juan Villoro (México, 1956)
Editorial: Anagrama

Título: Victus
Autor: Albert Sánchez Piñol (Barcelona, 1965)
Editorial: La Campana

Título: Hablar solos
Autor: Andrés Neuman
Editorial: Alfaguara

El Cultural from Spain has an interesting list. I found their list last year one of the more interesting ones (and 100% Spanish, I believe; no Latin Americans). Their top pick is the Spanish writer José María Merino’s realistic novel. He’s generally thought of a writer of the fantastic and a short story writer, though not exclusively. I just finished one of his books and a review will becoming shortly, but his work is interesting and wide ranging. His interviews are worth a read, too.

  • El río del Eden, José María Merino (Alfaguara)
  • Absolución, Luis Landero (Tusquets)
  • Años lentos, Fernando Aramburú (Tusquets)
  • El Tango de la Guardia Vieja, Arturo Pérez Reverte (Alfaguara)
  • Las Leyes de la Frontera, Javier Cercas (Tusquets)
  • La hija del Este, Clara Usón (Seix Barral)
  • Las voces del Pamano, Jaumé Cabré (Destino)
  • La cabeza en llamas, Luis Mateo Diez (Galaxia Gutemberg)
  • Medusa, R. Menéndez Salmón (Seix Barral)
  • Ayer no más, Andrés Trapiello (Destino)

Their write up of Landero’s book is quite succinct:

Con pericia de narrador en plena madurez, Landero (Alburquerque, Badajoz, 1948) relata en Absolución las aventuras de Lino, un treintañero conflictivo, tierno y desvalido, de muchos oficios y poco asiento. Con él se cruzan personajes casi tan raros como él, excéntricos y quijotescos, a los que Landero retrata con una mirada cordial, piadosa y distante hasta construir , en palabras de Santos Sanz Villanueva, “una excelente novela, divertida y triste, cálida, repleta de seres entrañables, que además se atreve a plantear, con lucidez y humor, con más melancolía que tragedia aparente, el irresoluble arcano de nuestra misteriosa existencia y enigmático destino”.

The Columbian Magazine Semana has this list (nod to Moleskine). Two items of note: a book of creative writing from indigenous authors; and a book from James Thurber (What?).

1. Memoria por correspondencia, de Emma Reyes.
2. Crímenes, de Ferdinand von Schirach.
3. Abandonarse a la pasión, de Hiromi Kawakami.
4. Lenguaje creativo de las etnias indígenas de Colombia, de varios autores.
5. Elegía, de Mary Jo Bang.
6. Érase una vez en Colombia, de Ricardo Silva Romero.
7. El desafío de la memoria, de Joshua Foer.
8. Doce relojes, de James Thurber.
9. El incendio de abril, de Miguel Torres.
10. Los hermanos Cuervo, de Andrés Felipe Solano.

Finally, El ADN Cultura from “La Nación” has a list you can read here. It is long and has a lot of translations on it–including Steven King, so just by that it is a dubious list. Perhaps, translation makes him better.

Merino, Fernández Cubas, Shua, Peri Ross, Hidalgo Bayali and Marsé on the Best Short Story Writers

El Pais has an article where short story authors Merino, Fernández Cubas, Shua, Peri Ross, Hidalgo Bayali and Marsé discuss the best short story writers of today, including those in Spanish. Perhaps it could be a more insightful article, but it does have a few points of interest.

“Poe, Maupassant, Kafka, Borges, Cortázar… ¿Cómo elegir? Y, sobre todo, ¿por qué elegir, si puedo tenerlos todos?”, responde Ana María Shua a la pregunta sobre su clásico básico. Prolífica autora de cuentos y microrrelatos, con títulos como la colección Que tengas una vida interesante (Emecé), la escritora argentina acaba de cruzarse con la obra de tres autores que, en breve tiempo, han sido capaces de imprimir una huella en su memoria: “Edgar Keret, el israelí loco que inventó otra manera de contar; Alice Munro, una vieja canadiense que se cree que un cuento se puede contar como si fuera una novela, ¡y lo consigue!, y Eloy Tizón, el cuentista español que toma al lector de sorpresa y lo derriba en cada párrafo”. Entre los jóvenes talentos que despuntan en lengua castellana, señala dos nombres: “En España, Isabel González, sin duda, con su libro Casi tan salvaje, escrito a estocadas salvajes sin el casi. En Argentina (pero publicada también en España), Samanta Schweblin, una genio, no se la pierdan, nieta literaria de Dino Buzzati. Con menos de 35 años, las dos ya son más que promesas”.