Friday, August 9, 2013

La Familia de Pascual Duarte

Camilo José Cela won a Nobel Prize back in the 80's, and was awarded a Marquesate some time later by the King. He is known in Spain for these things and for swearing a lot. It's some years since he pronounced his last swearword, having gone to sit at the great writing desk in the sky, doubtless in front of a window through which can be seen far more interesting things than the ones he's now trying to write about (Perhaps that's just me, and might explain why his success was rather greater than mine. I wrote about 'La Colmena' a couple of years ago, I think, but the holotype, as it were, of his work, is generally considered to be 'La Familia de Pascual Duarte', which I had never quite got round to reading.

It was written in the early 1940's, and set during the preceding decades, as it describes most of the life of the title character. It sets the scene at such length, and is at first so pleased with the conceit of its own narrative framework, that you begin to wonder if there is any story to be told at all. But there is, it develops rhythm and power, and it gains a sense of its own surroundings, almost accidentally in the end, having tried so hard to do it deliberately, which makes it matter. It is not clear why Duarte does, or does not do, the central acts of the story. It is never explained why he didn't kill his sister's lover, why his brother died as he did, how his wife died, why he left his home and his wife, why his sister became a tart, why he killed his mother… His story is a series of  disconnected and unexplained actions.

The story is told, effectively, in his own words, supposedly in a manuscript found by the prison governor. he explains little, he only states, describes, sometimes justifies, often omits. He seems to care for nothing; fair enough. The family is not the story, the house is not the story, although that might have been the original idea. It is a combination of all these things, a mood created by them collectively, that is the story, and what makes the book worth reading.

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