CATENGESP


HARD TIMES

(03/12/2007)

Aquest article no estŕ traduďt al catalŕ; es mostra la seva versió en anglčs

A review of 'The Enormity Of The Tragedy',Quim Monzó's first novel to be published in English.

'THE ENORMITY OF THE TRAGEDY' by Quim Monzó. Translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush. Peter Owen Publishers, London, 2007. 222 pages. Fiction. ISBN: 978-0-7206-1299-8

(Note: I have maintained the original title and text of this review. The version published in the Times Literary Supplement was altered slightly for reasons of space).

Some ten years ago, the host on Catalan public television's then most popular chat show asked Quim Monzó how he thought a stable couple might be affected if one of its members had a fling. Ignoring the question, Monzó snapped back: 'There are no stable couples'; a retort that would not have taken his readers as much aback as it visibly did the presenter, used as they already were to Monzó's fictional presentation of life as a kind of quirky video game in which anything can happen and everything is, therefore, provisional.
In the opening chapters of 'The Enormity of the Tragedy', Monzó toys with this conditional view of things to comic effect: a failed publisher turned trumpet player, Ramon-Maria, and the woman he is trying to seduce, Maria-Eugčnia, go from a restaurant (in which he has drunk too much champagne) to a bar where he tries to sober himself up with a coffee, worried that he won't be able to get an erection in the likely event one will soon be required; she has a brandy to keep him company; he finishes his coffee too fast and, as she is only half-way through her brandy, orders a rum-cola to keep her company; the rum-cola is delayed, so that when it arrives, she has finished her brandy but orders another to keep him company, and so it goes on until Ramon-Maria finds himself negotiating the steps to her flat, 'completely plastered'. A beautifully timed sequence that has the reader finding it all but impossible not to laugh his (or her) head off.
Easy as it woud have been to maintain this lightly humorous tone, Monzó immediately ups the narrative ante by giving Ramon-Maria, predictably afflicted with a droop, a huge erection that refuses to go away, no matter what. We then meet the story's other main character, Ramon-Maria's stepdaughter, Anna-Francesca, a fifteen year-old assailed by successive waves of self-centred puppy love. A second plot twist - to explain which would spoil the book for first-time readers - pushes both Ramon-Maria and Anna-Francesca into respective spirals of despair and murderous spite. The outcome is a tragedy as cruel as it is telling: the dark side of the title's apparently flippant sexual pun.
Monzó occasionally twists his own distinctive style into brief pastiches of Shakespearean bluster, Loompanics murder manuals, teen magazine stories, and even certain well-known Barcelonan novelists whose use of the city in their fiction verges on a pandering to potential tourists. Hence Monzó's European reputation as a genius of 'postmodern literary parody' (to quote the English blurb).
Happily, he is a great deal more. To read this novel is to enter the fictional universe of an author trapped permanently between astonishment and aversion at the world he has found himself in, so estranged that his only possible literary recourse is an almost manic humour underpinned by a frighteningly bleak vision of the day-to-day, both conveyed to the full by Monzó's painstakingly precise use of language - in his case, the Catalan language - finely rendered by Peter Bush.
'The Enormity Of The Tragedy' - notwithstanding its debts to Robert Coover, John Cheever, surrealist Sabadell writer Francesc Trabal and the Mexico-exiled Catalan master of magical realism, Pere Calders, among others - is a thoroughly original piece of writing and a venerable modern classic in its own country. Let us hope that Monzó's latest book, 'Mil Cretins' ('A Thousand Cretins'), published in October 2007, will not have to wait quite so long - nearly two decades - for an English translation.



- Textos i contingut: Matthew Tree - Disseny i programació: Nac -