CATENGESP

Private Country
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ISBN:
This is a novel about a violent alcoholic who is picked up by the police when found with a bomb in a bag and a pack of letters from the author Malcolm Lowry in his pocket. Originally written in English, it was published in both Catalan and Spanish in 2001. It is still looking for an English publisher. A file containing the full text can be found at the bottom of this page.

There follows a Times Literary Supplement review of the Spanish version, which was translated directly from the English:

'PRIVILEGIADO. Matthew Tree. Translated from the English by Maria Antonia Merini. 212pp. Barcelona: Muntaner. 14.72euros. 84 95648 05 9.
Matthew Tree's case is unusual. Born in London in 1958, he moved in 1984 to Barcelona, where he has worked as a journalist and, most recently, a scriptwriter for local radio and television. Best known to viewers in Catalonia as the deadpan presenter of the satirical show Guiri Guiri, a spoof Catalan-language course for foreigners, Tree has also been publishing fiction in Catalan since the early 1990s. A first novel in 1996 and a successful collection of short stories in 1999 have now been followed by Privilegiat (Privileged), which is also available as Privilegiado in an excellent Spanish translation by Maria Antonia Merini. First written in English under the title of Private Country, but as yet unpublished in that language, the novel is a ferocious, well-crafted tale of intrigue told by a provocatively unlikeable narrator. Bitter and obscene, it is also a work about exile and the purpose of fabrication in life and art.

The story alternates between passages covering the unnamed narrator's interrogation by London police detectives and an interleaved series of ten letters ostensibly written by the novelist Malcolm Lowry between 1933 and 1956.

The narrator has been caught in possession of these letters, and a large quantity of plastic explosives, while behaving suspiciously in St James's Park, and the police use the documents to try to discover the target of the foiled act of terrorism. The Lowry letters underline a link between the narrator and the author himself: perhaps the narrator is Tree's alter ego. Moreover, Tree's grandfather was the Lowry family accountant entrusted with sending monthly payments to the novelist during his long foreign exile, and is known to have received many letters from Lowry in return.

These letters were almost certainly burned immediately after Lowry's death, but, through his narrator, Tree teasingly raises the possibility that he may have saved some from the pyre by stealing them from his grandfather's study when he was only seven years old. This seems unlikely. Matthew Tree did not reach the age of seven until well after the end of Lowry's life, and there are plenty of other textual hints to support the impression formed, as far as is possible when reading them in translation, that the letters in the novel cannot be authentic. An important point is at stake. Although it would be difficult to imagine a writer more unlike W. G. Sebald than Matthew Tree, the latter's procedure and aims are essentially Sebaldian. By placing plausible forgeries of historical documents within his novel and then casting doubt on their authenticity, Tree forces his readers to decide if the letters, and indeed his protagonist's entire version of events, are fake or not.

There are other, more obvious, ways in which this is a book for adults that should be avoided by the squeamish. Tree's murderous narrator works as a cameraman in the porn film industry, and the text is thus spattered with very explicit accounts of grapples in the studio. Enough detail is provided for readers to become thoroughly acquainted with anal sex, and the novel contains many violent scenes, such as the main character's alley rape of a fellow Englishman whose accent has shown him to be a product of the despised public-school system. On top of all this, Tree's narrator specializes in a sort of anti-Establishment rant, which permits the author to reveal the inner workings of a sharp but very warped mind.

This is a technically competent book with the force of a lashing gale. There is no question that it deserves an English-language readership, but credit will always be due to Catalonia for having discovered its author first.'
MARTIN BEAGLES, THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT, 26/04/02

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Private Country
This novel is available as a PDF document.

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