Paris depicts a man’s journey through the labyrinth of his memories, a search for his origins that will uncover an old family secret and turn his world upside down. A mesmerizing and haunting story by award-winning author Marcos Giralt Torrente, a master craftsman calibrating nuance and impact with a true gift....
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by unanimous jury decision (which included roberto bolaño), marcos giralt torrente's paris was awarded the 1999 herralde prize (andrés neuman's as yet untranslated bariloche was the runner-up). the spaniard's debut novel is a remarkable work of remembrance, reconciliation of memory, and the tenacious effects of formative moments. giralt torrente's narrator, a man reflecting back on a number of unanswered questions from his youth (most notably, the time his mother spent living in the french capital city without him - and the relationship they both had to his oft-absent father), spends nearly the entirety of the novel reflecting, recalling, re-imagining, and re-processing the events of childhood. with stunning prose and impressive psychology insight, paris is a meditation on the nature of memory and the ways it binds our present to the past. giralt torrente's debut novel is a masterful feat.when we think about the past, it's hard to resist both dividing it up into blocks in accordance with the pattern of events that have made most impression on us and attributing powers to it that it does not have, allowing ourselves to believe that the arrival of a particular date had the ability to work some radical transformation on us. until the death of my father, we say, i was like this or like that, when we should really say that on such and such a date, something that already existed inside us began to make itself manifest or visible. such nonsense is merely the reflection of a still greater error of thinking, the belief that we change suddenly rather than gradually, as if we could not possibly be influenced by opposing but simultaneous impulses.*translated from the spanish by margaret jull costa (saramago, marías, pessoa, eça de queirós, et al.)
Marcos Giralt Torrente's debut novel - originally written in 1999 but only just translated into English - comes heavily trailed by illustrious comparisons. We're told the book won the major Spanish Herralde Prize, awarded by a jury chaired by Roberto Bolano, who had himself won the same award previous year, with 2nd place given to the debut novel by Andres Neumann. And that El Pais hailed him as an heir to Javier Marias and Enrique Vila-Matis. From the English language, Ishiguro is another obvious reference point.And the ultimate seal of approval - a who's who of translators into English have worked on his books. Paris is translated by the wonderful Margaret Jull Costa (Javier Marias's main translator), and we also have a memoir done by Natasha Wimmer (of Bolano's 2666 fame) and a short-story collection with Katherine Silver (Cesar Aira's English voice).Amongst all these names, the novels of Marias are the most obvious parallel. Indeed the narrative voice, in English, is so similar at times, I would wonder if this was a artefice of having a translator in common, were it not for Jull Costa having proven herself more than capable of adopting very different voices for authors as diverse as Marias, Saramago, Atxaga, Antunes, and de Queiroz. But is Giralt simply Marias-by-numbers, in the same way that so many Latin American authors tried to emulate Garcia Marquez but without capturing his magic (cough...Isabelle Allende...cough)? Fortunately, I'm pleased to say that Torrente is a distinctive, and important voice in his own right.Paris tells the story of a middle-aged narrator, and his detailed reflections on his relationship with his parents, and their relationship with each other, mostly focused on events in his childhood and adolesence. His mother is by now suffering from dementia, and so unable to answer the many questions he has, which he instead turns over, obsessively and in great detail, in his mind.His father was a rogue, and not even a particularly loveable one, a "fly-by-night" (his son's own description), a con-man not adverse to stealing from his own wife's purse. And he was frequently absent from home, including a 2 year spell in prison.His mother, in contrasts, presents to him a calm facade and does her best to shelter him from his father's unpredictability, while almost never opening up to him, and certainly not to anyone else, about her true feelings. While his father was in prison she offers her son "lame" answers for his absence, involving a illness needing hospitalisation followed by a job overseas, which he "unquestioningly accepted". Looking back now he reflects that "when all of this was going on, she told me nothing, her life was a pretense, a permanent charade intended to allow me to carry on as normal, to sleep, eat, laugh, wake up, go to school, and even cry, without worrying about things I had no reason to worry about or that she didn't want me to worry about. My mother was a rock, and if there was a chisel chipping away at her, if it caused dust or flakes of stone to fall onto the floor of her spirit or allowed time to erode her, revealing gaps and flaws and fractured veins, all of that happened while she was alone, without me as a witness, or, of course as a confidant...we never touched on feelings, she never told me what went on inside her or what pain she felt, if indeed she felt any pain." His mother only really opens up to him - and then primarily to reveal important truths rather than her own feelings - twice in his life, each time imploring him to "pay attention and listen". The first is on the way to pick up his father on his release date, when she reveals that his father has been in prison. He isn't angry with his mother for hiding this truth, concluding that "Her previous lie became justifiable as soon as she decided to tell me that such a lie had existed. It would not have been justifiable, on the other hand, if, over the course of time, I'd found out the truth by myself."The second time occurs later, both in time and in the pages of the novel, when she reveals, albeit in a very roundabout fashion, a key family secret which shakes the foundation of the intra-family relationships, and indeed the reader's appreciation of the story.His mother prefaces this second confession, and justifies her previous silence on this topic, with the words "one often lies to and deceives the person one loves most in order to preserve their love, or to protect them". And the narrator goes on to reflect:"While my mother maintains a smoke-filled silence I think about those words which...it would seem she said quite deliberately. The two reasons she gives are quite different, and she didn't make that distinction by chance...The protecting lie is the one you admit to when there's no longer any need to protect and the lie intended to preserve love is the one you never reveal. I think this reluctantly and wonder how much my mother will keep silent about until the end of her days, and how much she is holding back until the time comes for it to be told."And this pursuit of what else his mother may be holding back for the right time or keeping silent about forever, remains his obsession, even more so now his mother, while alive, is no longer mentally capable of revealing any further secrets.Specifically, the narrator remains fixated on trying to learn the truth behind a different episode. When, a few years after his release, his mother and father separate permanently, his mother moves from their Madrid home to Paris for an extended stay, leaving him in the care of his Aunt. His mother returns, unexpectedly from Paris, and he and she resume their life together, without his father, but he becomes convinced that something fundamental happened in Paris, perhaps his mother went there in search for or even to live with his father, or something else significant. It's this pursuit of the truth behind the Paris period of his mother's life that leads to the revelation of the, seemingly much more fundamental, family secret, but even then, and until the present, he remains fixated on Paris, as if his one missing piece of the puzzle could unlock his relationship with his mother:"I'm always drawn back to the thought of something that may never even have happened and only exists in my imagination as a way of neutralising the different emotions the image arouses in me. I will never know more than I know now, and perhaps it is the impossibility of getting beyond mere conjecture that continues to endow with significance an event which, if it did happen, would have to be considered less important in comparison with other I know to have happened, and which she very bravely told me about when few people in her situation would have dared to so much as mention them." This comment opens the novel, while the previous incident of his mother "bravely" revealing the secret, to which the truth about Paris is "less important in comparison", close it, giving the novel a circular quality, which deliberately reflects the narrator's thought processes.Indeed Giralt's style, as expressed by the narrator, is highly elliptical. The narrator spends much more time anticipating what happened (is about to have happened) and retrospectively analysing his feelings while it was about to happen - he coins the wonderful phrase "retrospective pre-sentiment" - than he ever does telling us about the incident or conversation itself. Giralt himself has been quoted (not in the novel) "The language [the narrators of his books] use to express themselves has to reflect the undulations of their thoughts and their mimesis of details and exactitude."Giralt also has his narrator explicitly rejected any omniscience on his behalf. At the outset of his account he tells us "I must make do with what I myself saw and heard. I must try to speak only of the things of which I have direct experience, even if that depends in large measure on what I don't know but can only intuit. Since it's not my intention to convert doubt into certainty but simply to make sense of what happened as a consequence of my suspicions, there will be nothing contradictory about my course of action as long as everything I say is told from my point of view at the time. Any gaps other than those in my own memory will have to continue to exist, because even if it were in my power to do so, what purpose would there be in trying to investigate them further? Indeed, their fate might be precisely that, to remain unassailable in order to illuminate other gaps that do actually exist in my memory."It Is fascinating to read Giralt back-to-back, as I have, with Knausgaard's Boyhood Island, as the theme of memory is key to both novels. Giralt's narrator observes that "memory is a great temptation, and what could be easier than to highlight some memories at the expenses of others and retrospectively draw up a synthesis adapted to what has endured rather than what actually happened?"And key to Giralt's novel is the inability for anyone to ever really truly know another person: "however close we feel to those around us, can we ever be sure that what we know about them is true, if what they tell us is the whole truth, and does knowing or not knowing change anything in our life?"Compared to Marias, his themes are less universal, or at least have less explicit attempts to draw universal truths, but not necessarily worse for it as it leaves reader to draw wider conclusions. If there is a possible weakness in the novel, it is that the meta-narrative can feel contrived to achieve the desired literary effect, for example the narrator seems remarkably uncurious about incidents such as the two year absence of his father in jail, adding to the effect when he suddenly discovers the truth, and seems unusually unwilling to simply ask his mother direct questions. Although this itself could be explained as the narrator's artifice rather than the author's - indeed comparisons to Ishiguro are inevitable at the point with his blithly unaware and possibly unreliable narrators. As the narrator himself says "When we think about the past, it's hard to resist both dividing it up into blocks in accordance with the pattern of events that have made the most impression on us and attributing powers to it that it does not have, allowing ourselves to believe that the arrival of a particular date had the ability to work some radical transformation on us."Overall, a stunning and important work which made a deep impression on me, as evidenced by the length of the review and my extensive quotations.
“I no longer talk to my mother, it’s impossible. I think about her, but I hardly see her. What’s to be done when we still have questions to ask, when we have not had run out of questions, and when the person of whom we’d like to ask those questions, with whom we’d like to continue talking, isn’t there to answer us, can’t speak, and has no idea that we’re counting on her? My mother is there, but she doesn’t say anything—or nothing that makes any sense—she doesn’t answer, she isn’t her. Her body is there, you can touch her, she hasn’t really changed, apart from getting a little thinner, but she’s a body without voice or memory, a body that doesn’t recognize anyone and has neither past nor future. Something that neither she nor I foresaw has swooped down on her body and torn it apart forever, even though it still exists and can go on existing. Sometimes, like now, I think that since she clearly isn’t her anymore, nothing binds me to that empty body, which moves and speaks but doesn’t feel, or whose feelings are distorted, and other times I resist losing her; on those occasions, I take her hand and try to make her recognize me, to rediscover some trace of the person she was. Sometimes when I visit, I spent hours looking at her, then I leave and don’t come back for weeks, because I can’t bear seeing her like that. I prefer my memory of her to a present in which he has no voice, I prefer to let her grow inside my memory rather than accept this alien, jarring present.”
despite the seemingly dense prose as advertised in various reviews/blurbs, I found Paris a fast and gripping psychological read with a three quarters predictable main twist - given the setup and after reading many books in its vein, most of the main twist was expected, one half kind of clear after a while (see above cover too) and one half being being one of a few possibilities so the "3/4" - and a book that took over my reading from the first page so I couldn't put down until finishedthe prose (at least in the English translation which read very smooth) does indeed remind one of Javier Marias so for example if you read the 700 page Night of Time, this 250 odd page novel will seem a breezeeverything "happens" in the mind of the narrator when now as a mid thirties adult recollects the crucial events of his childhood starting with the first arrest of his father at age 9 - arrest concealed artfully by his mother and soon forgotten despite the boy actually witnessing it, up to the final disappearance of his father from his life and a shocking meeting he witnesses a few years later which leads to his mother's second main "confession" (first being the arrest one some time after but before this fulcrum of the novel)as expected not all is explained and we are left wondering about the main repeating theme of the novel:“One often lies to and deceives the person one loves most in order to preserve their love, or to protect them.......The protecting lie is the one you admit to when there’s no longer any need to protect, and the lie intended to preserve love is the one you never reveal.”on the minor niggles side, there are some repetitions that I think were intended to reinforce the main theme above, but which seemed forced on occasion, while the "purely psychological" nature gives the book "a disconnected from reality" flavor where the "rawness" of life takes a second place to one's imagination; still the prose was magic and absorbed me completelyhighly recommended
Tremendo descubrimiento (gracias hermanito) y pasa cada tanto, te toca una buena mano y aparece el libro que necesita tu alma."Todos llevamos en nuestro interior el proyecto de lo que somos así como el de lo que pudimos haber sido, y que acabemos siendo de un modo o de otro no depende de la aparición o desaparición de nuevos rasgos, sino, más bien, de la forma en que unos rasgos ya existentes terminan imponiéndose sobre los otros""Ya nada importa nada"
An interesting premise is systematically undermined by writery gum-flapping. There seems to be a tendency with some of the people whose recommendations I have blindly taken to heart to revel in the contemporary crop of MemoryLit (Murnane and Chejfec being two other prominent members of this clique). I'm feeling thoroughly dissatisfied, perhaps most of all because Paris is the poorest example I've read so far. It's like Days of Abandonment was doused in boredom.
Lo siento, no soporto a este autor, esos monólogos interminables, esa ausencia de acción, ese protagonista analizando y reanalizándolo todo durante páginas y páginas, y para cuando por fin ocurre algo ya te da igual porque lo que quieres es asesinar a alguien... en fin, es aburriiiiiiiiiiiiiiido, tengo mejores libros que leer...