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496 pages, Paperback
First published March 1, 2018
There is a recurring idea in the novel, the thesis that the dead are never entirely dead, that in fact we cohabit a kind of hybrid space, us and them, as well as that the largest social network ever is not that of the internet but the one that joins the living with the dead. This leads us additionally to the idea that we are all socially connected with somebody who died in war.
In effect, [the book] is composed of a trio of novels shot through with the experiences of people who have either been through war, or are still living out wars they’ve been through. But they aren’t accounts of those wars, or indeed of the characters’ fortunes during them, but deal rather with what we might call the B side of war, its unsuspected echoes in our day-to-day lives
As for research, it was minimal, the less the better. I’m of the opinion that the need to read up on anything and everything in order to write a novel is a myth that stems from the realist tradition, or from the kind of novel with roots in journalism. Research is a stone that can weigh the writer down, dragging you into the abyss—it prevents you from imagining or being free in your fiction making.
we look for certainty, we die in fear, that's all there is.as (delightfully) bewildering as the nocilla trilogy was, agustín fernández mallo's new one, the things we've seen (trilogía de la guerra), is even better. the spanish author's latest (originally published in 2018), is more mature, more grounded, and altogether more assured an outing than its predecessor (and entirely different in scope too). a triptych spanning decades, continents, and disparate characters, the things we've seen's three books aren't connected or linked in a linear sense, but repeating themes and phrases reverberate throughout.
it was as though evil was actually held in higher regard than what's good. by this same logic, what's good, with no one keeping an account of it or checking it in any way, is a kind of echo that resounds to the ends of what is known, and its expansion, like that of the universe, will know no limits.while comparisons to sebald abound (and for good reasons, especially as he and his work figure into part of the things we've seen), fernández mallo's writing in this book reminded me most of javier marías at his digressive best. funny, thought-provoking prose meanders discursively, alighting in places seldom trafficked and often overlooked. with keen observations about modern life, the history that preceded it, and the future still to follow, the things we've seen spurs many a thought about synchronicity and eternal return. fernández mallo is so damn talented a writer and it would indeed be a mistake to take the things we've read as a given.
there are such things that, paradoxically, arrive out of the past and impact us for all that we're yet to arrive in their future.
«improvvisamente penso agli epiloghi, non avevo mai pensato agli epiloghi delle cose, a ciò che sta oltre le cose, e penso […]che ogni cosa degna di esistere è stata creata per essere vista almeno due volte […], e quanto più si pensa a quel libro o a quel film, maggiori sono gli epiloghi che si sovrappongono, starti e strati di epiloghi, un'unica pila di epiloghi che si sommano senza interferire l'uno con l'altro. […] M chiedo: qual è l'epilogo di una città? O meglio ancora: qual è l'epilogo di un paese? Sospetto che l'epilogo dei paesi sia costituito da tutti i racconti, le storie più o meno fantastiche e i miti che le generazioni, una dopo l'altra, raccontano di quei paesi. Per dirlo in altro modo, sono la parte immaginaria già insita nelle cose che esistono»
«Il fatto è che la realtà è massimamente disordinata, non percepiamo mai le cose nella loro corretta sequenza temporale, per questo, anche quando parliamo o scriviamo, non rispettiamo l'ordine cronologico. La vita è un incidente aerei elevato all'ennesima potenza, la vita è una grande catastrofe, l'incidente definitivo, ed è con quel disordine che la raccontiamo.»
"Isn’t it true that mirrors always entail lapses in time, given the time it takes for light to travel any distance?"Even more amazing than the rich texture of this feast of a novel is the deceptively readable (as he puts it: scientifically clear) style Mallo employs to explore his themes: memory, stories, interconnectedness, authenticity. No wonder the author of Compass, Énard speaks so highly of this Spanish writer.
“a repetition doesn’t bring about a law or a norm but instead makes the repeated thing all the more singular, like the species evolving in reverse.”Memory does not preserve, but alters. Narrative mutations, or “slight deviations from reality”, are ingrained in history. Small details – too many to point out – are reiterated in Mallo’s frolicking intratextual play as he introduces his own slight mutation of history, making up the story of a fourth astronaut among those who first landed on moon.
“there’s no such thing as a dead language, any such claim is like saying that the dead don’t live on in us, when it’s beyond doubt that the dead tend to be far more present in our day to day than any living person.”It’s precisely this diachronic aperture of human existence that repressive authorities try to close up, our writer realizes as he notices that
“in conditions of isolation, there’s a tendency for bodies and brains to meld together into a single consciousness, into a receptacle for identical reagents.”Individuality is annulled in isolation. In an unforgettably fine scene, Mallo breaks the solitary writer’s isolation by opening the metaphysical dimension for him. As he reflects on all these in an abandoned church, the writer feels being drawn under the protection of the saint with stolen hands (which will resurface, again protectively, in the third narration), who prevents the history-laden island from absorbing the writer.
“There is nothing worse than ideas and the fickle way they have of mutating… ideas cannot be touched or drawn or captured in a photograph either.”It is in fact a tribute to life, to the lives of all who ever lived, and – with another humorous intertextual touch – to the lives lost to virtuality: “I saw the greatest minds of my generation destroyed by Facebook.”