Drew's Reviews > The Manuscript Found in Saragossa

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki
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's review
Aug 11, 2010

really liked it
Read from April 05 to July 13, 2010

I've never been a particularly fast reader and this book was consumed in the smallest of sips until I was stuck in hospital for a week and swallowed the last 300 pages in one gulp.
Jan Potocki sounds like a character that Jan Potocki would invent: nobleman, warrior, diplomat, poet, lover, etc., etc. According to legend he shot himself with a decorative strawberry from the top of his silver sugar canister. Each day he filed away at it for a few strokes and when it was through he settled his bills with a silver berry.
Of course, this story isn't part of the novel, but it might as well be. The whole story cycle is wrapped in various layers of narrative: a anonymous French officer who discovers the eponymous manuscript; Alfons von Worden, the young Flemish nobleman on whom the story centres; and the various other protagonists whose stories we are party to.
Initially the book delivers well on creepiness and ghoulish goings-on, but as it advances it becomes increasingly earthbound, or rather earth-scouring and delving, because we are dragged from the caves and mountains of Andalusia to Madrid, the New World, North Africa, Sicily and Spain, the Hapsburg empire, Egypt, Palestine and beyond.
All the while we hear are stories of the "I was born the first son of a grandee in the largest town in Murcia" kind. They are on some level formulaic, but also charming with a lightness (or complete absence) of characterisation. Here action is all.
I don't know if the above qualify as reservations, but I would certainly not recommend this book to everyone. It packs a massive amount of stories into a relatively small space, has a density that might not be everyone's cup of tea, and follows a relentless course through metaphysics, cabala, Islam, picaresque, Gothic horror and adventure novel. It's also a fascinating meditation on romanticism and anti-modernity that only reveals its true colours very late in the game.
If that doesn't put you off, by all means give it a go. You could be pleasantly surprised.
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Reading Progress

04/12/2010 page 50
05/26/2010 page 230
36.45% "Quite an enthralling read, ranging from Cabala, occult and vampirism to swashbuckling brigands' adventures and parodies of renaissance Spain's sclerotic, class-obsessed society."
07/02/2010 page 400
61.0% "I'm starting to feel that maybe they should have left the manuscript where it was..."
07/06/2010 page 430
66.0% "With so many stories running at so many levels of the narrative, The Manuscript is both enveloping and exhausting. I'm thnking that it might work as music, with a different instrument for each voice, waxing and waning based on the indentedness of the narrative..."
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