Ben Winch's Reviews > Locos: A Comedy of Gestures

Locos by Felipe Alfau
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's review
Aug 19, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: spanish, lost-modernists, short-stories

Strangely, for a book recommended to me by a man who claims not to like short stories, this is not a novel (as its cover-blurb claims) but a collection of short stories. Linked they may be, but cohesive enough to be a novel they are not. Nor (while I'm on the subject of the cover-blurb) do they 'anticipate works like Pale Fire and One Hundred Years of Solitude'. The metafictional element - the 'whimsy of a loss of authorial control' as Mary McCarthy writes in the afterword - is no great innovation, and while it is entertaining and, in at least one story ('A Character', in which a fictional character falls in love with a 'real' woman), moving, it rarely occupies centre-stage. As McCarthy says: 'If any aspect of the book has aged, it is this whimsicality.' Maybe that's exaggeration, or maybe I don't care that it has aged; for my part, I liked the whimsy, but felt it was unevenly spread across the stories. As to One Hundred Years of Solitude, huh?! In the book's one true magical moment ('The Necrophil', about a woman who dies for months at a time and is resuscitated) Alfau channels Poe, and the resultant fairly traditional gothic tale resembles Marquez not at all. That said, I'm not complaining. For the first half of this book I had a merry old time. Old-fashioned storytelling with a touch of Pirandello and a bunch of belly-laughs - it was great! But around about 'The Chinelato' I fancied it slackened off in intensity, and by the last two stories, 'The Necrophil' and 'A Romance of Dogs', I felt sure Alfau was serving up earlier work with familiar character's names inserted to superficially maintain cohesion - though I'll admit I'm no fan of quizzes or crosswords either, so I no doubt missed some (tacked-on, I maintain) minor revelations. Whether there's any real 'depth' here I can't say, but when Alfau's at his best I don't care, because he's so entertaining. Nor does the idea of his having been a supporter of Franco (from the sidelines in the U.S., not while shedding blood in Spain) bother me in the slightest. This is about as apolitical as fiction gets, and (apart from the last story) close to pure invention. I think it's great, in places, and some kind of 'lost classic'. But to call it a great innovation is a bit of a stretch.

(Oh God, and spare me the Hopscotch comparisons! So you can read the stories in any order - so what? You can read Winesburg, Ohio in any order as well, but no-one calls it experimental - nor do they call it a novel, for that matter. And don't even get me started about how pathetic the structural ruse of Hopscotch is in the first place!... Forgive me the rant: I just get so sick of people praising these books for what seem to me the wrong reasons. Locos is fun, period. Read it for that reason and I doubt you'll be disappointed.)
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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Mike Puma Glad you liked this one. Alfau's Franco connection was troublesome--I'm often unforgiving and hold a grudge, even when I'm in no way related to the event(s) and merely have an opinion on it. It's part of what made identification with the protagonist in Soldiers of Salamis a challenge. Looking back at my own review, I remember calling McCarthy's afterword 'optional'--now I think of it as 'unmemorable.'

message 2: by Ben (last edited Sep 16, 2012 05:28AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch Yeah the afterword is nothing special, but I felt slightly vindicated that she too dismissed the metafictional pioneer tag. As to Alfau's (or any author's) political or personal life, I hold to the view that fiction is one place we can engage with people of all beliefs, so long as those beliefs don't impinge on the writing.

Mike Puma Ben wrote: "I hold to the view that fiction is one place we can engage with people of all beliefs."

Kinda like the UN ambassador to the Literary World, the Angelina Jolie of Lettres?

message 4: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch Mike wrote: "... the Angelina Jolie of Lettres?"

Well, I didn't say I was gonna try adopting any of 'em.

Mike Puma The best ones are all dead anyway.

message 6: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch The best fascists?

Mike Puma The Literary World personalities. I'm not quite sure what the 'best' fascists would be.

message 8: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch Nah I dunno that the literary world personalities are all dead, they're just in inchoate form while the book industry has a breakdown.

The best fascists would be the most elemental ones, and I doubt Alfau qualifies.

Mike Puma Had to come back to this one. Still stinging from the 'liteary Noah's ark.' If I change my mind about short stories, I'm gonna appropriate that as my own.

message 10: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch Actually judging from your profile pic I could see you as a kind of Noah.

message 11: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Puma Anyone trapped on a boat (ark) with me for 40 days would toss me over the side.

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