The writer Antonio Muñoz Molina, at his home in Madrid on August 21. XIMENA AND SERGIO
There is in the contained length of this novel, in the intensity of the two situations that sustain the plot, in the calculated gear of the voices that enunciate it, in the single sentence that occupies the first chapter (73 pages), an obvious will that I will not see you die is not one more work in the already long and brilliant journey of Antonio Muñoz Molina. And he has succeeded, because we are facing a narrative of exemplary construction, in which the technical artifices are concerted in the same direction, which marks a visible love story, that of the triumphant Gabriel Aristu, who carries in his reverse (or that hides) another dramatic story, that of the vital breakdown of his beloved and defeated Adriana Zuber. And it is this story, which we know elliptically, that casts its shadow over everything that is told about Aristu and that moves and overwhelms and afflicts thanks to the delicate sobriety with which the novelist presents it through a scene of reunion half a century after the farewell. I will try to explain.
The scene takes place in the year two thousand and something in the apartment where a sick and wheelchair-bound elderly woman, Adriana Zuber, lives under the scrutiny of her caregiver Fanny. Gabriel has come to visit her, who has lived in the United States since he left in 1967 after saying goodbye to her on a furtive and hurried night to let half a century pass without showing signs of life. Gabriel was the son of a cultured monarchist, friend of Stravinsky, Lorca and the Hispanist J. B. Trend, who got him a scholarship at Oxford. Manuel de Falla, the musicologist Adolfo Salazar and Pau Casals were also among his friends, so it was natural for Gabriel to train as a cellist, although it was his studies of Law and Economics in London that led him to a successful international career as a legal and financial advisor.
The interior monologue of a character constitutes a single sentence that occupies the first 73 pages
How to tell at the same time those remote years of youthful love with Adriana and these 50 years of vital and professional adventures? Muñoz Molina gives the voice to the character himself, in an interior monologue that is a syntactic tour de force because in a single sentence he stuffs all the nuanced history of Aristu and, what is to be admired, without the thread breaking or being lost, allowing that liquid syntax to run through the meanders of an inner saying that encompasses a complete life.
Once the reader is placed in the coordinates of the fable, a new narrative voice emerges that takes us back to a previous time: it is the voice of a Spanish art teacher hired for a semester in the United States, where he arrives with all the excitement and perplexity of someone who does not master the language and steps on places that seem like movie sets. His name is Julio Márquez (the name is only given once), he carries his own backpack of misfortunes (an atrocious divorce and the radical lack of communication with his only daughter, a renowned astrophysicist) and finds in Aristu protection and condescending friendship.
After the monologue, it is he who operates as a witness narrator and confidant, who fills in the gaps of Aristu's biography with what he has told her and who will function as an activating spring of the plot, since it is only he who pronounces after so many years the name of Adriana Zuber. And, alternating with him, Muñoz Molina uses a superior and anonymous voice that resolves what escapes Márquez's knowledge but that one is tempted to read as an impostation of omniscience of this. These games with voices and point of view work perfectly and contribute to the ultimate effect of making Adriana Zuber's deep and irreparable loneliness feel, the iniquitous of her destiny.
The book manages to catch the black matter that molds from within the unhappy human destinies
If Gabriel, despite his initial feeling of strangeness – then softly chronicled – became a rich American, with a Yankee wife and children, a renowned cultural patron and a refined man of the world, Adriana suffered the condemnation of so many women, that of spousal abuse and harassment, that of helplessness and the struggle to survive and raise a daughter who, In addition, it was born of violence. Without the need to put words to it, Muñoz Molina subtly represents the mental effigy that the ancient lovers sculpted of each other, especially that of Adriana in the mind of Gabriel, an idol as innocuous as ornamental, housed in a shelf of his sentimental memory, oblivious to the true fate of the woman who inspired him. As to what image of Gabriel she harbored for half a century the reader will infer, but it is convenient that he pay attention to the dissimilarities and asymmetries, to which of the two he inhibited or desisted, to who kept in balance the disappointment and the hope, to the place where the assets accumulate and the place where the abandonment is piled up, The unwanted loneliness, the waiting for an amendment that does not arrive. Not even in a last unheeded plea.
Muñoz Molina accurately recreates the sophisticated life of Aristu or the tedious academic world, he proves again his mastery in the description of mental states governed by memory and desire, by duty and guilt, but in this novel, above that, he manages to catch the black matter that molds from within the unhappy human destinies. That of Aristu, that of the narrator Márquez, and the terrible one of Adriana Zuber, the heroine of this beautiful novel.
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