Xurxo Borrazás - Shakespearean drama set in a Galician context. There is something strikingly postmodern - or Elizabethan - about this novel, in which a man from Laracha, south-west of Coruña, on Galicia's famed Coast of Death, is on the run for committing a multiple murder that shocks the local community and has the priest calling for the razing of the local slums

VICIOUS

Xurxo Borrazás, Vicious, Trans. by Carys Evans-Corrales, Small Stations Press, 2015.

Shakespearean drama set in a Galician context. There is something strikingly postmodern - or Elizabethan - about this novel, in which a man from Laracha, south-west of Coruña, on Galicia's famed Coast of Death, is on the run for committing a multiple murder that shocks the local community and has the priest calling for the razing of the local slums. Chucho Monteiro, who has always been overlooked by his father in favor of his younger brother, Daniel, more pliable, less violent, heads to the port of Coruña in order to effect his escape on the first ship weighing anchor, a ship that will take him not to Stratford, but to Southampton and on. In a fascinating, multi-layered narrative, the author keeps the reader guessing about the murderer's final destination until the very end. Narrative chronology is mixed up, and the veil between author and reader is torn in two, so that we're not sure if we are witnesses or partakers of this narrative. "Vicious" (called "Criminal" in Galician) is Xurxo Borrazás' second and best-known novel, and won him the Spanish Critics' Prize as well as the San Clemente Prize awarded by high-school readers.

There are brutal crimes in Vicious, with the novel even beginning with a chapter narrated from the perspective of a freshly murdered man.
       The novel is set largely in Laracha, near Coruña, in Galicia, in the north-west corner of Spain. Two brothers, Chucho (named after their father), the older, and Daniel live on the family farm they have inherited from their father. Daniel is married and has a young son, also called Daniel, and is the more hardworking and dutiful of the brothers. Chucho went away for a while, but has returned to the fold -- though he is more of layabout and doesn't seem to be contributing very much.
       While a story of murder and the aftermath -- including the killer on the run -- unfolds in Vicious, it doesn't do so strictly chronologically. The forty-six chapters move back and forth in place and especially time, short scenes presented not quite in order rather than a simple continuum: both in presentation and feel Vicious is very cinematic, short, tight scenes cutting back and forth.
       While the book opens with a murder-victim, it immediately turns back a bit before getting to the crime itself again: repeatedly, throughout the novel, Borrazás circles back to the circumstances leading up to the crime. Similarly, the extent of the crime turns out be greater -- and considerably more horrific -- than is originally revealed. Throughout the novel, information also comes from a variety of sources, whether the locals gossiping at the victims' funeral or newspaper article clippings.
       There are Shakespearean echoes throughout the narrative -- right down to the incantation: "Words, words, words" -- and the seething-below-the-surface familial conflict that then erupts with such horrific consequences has a Shakespearean feel. These characters seem fated to live out these destinies, unable to change them -- and the murderer, in particular, appears repeatedly to have no other way out (or forward), as even in distant escape he is driven still further into what amounts to the abyss.
       Borrazás and some of his characters are aware that little is clear-cut in this world, and Vicious is rife with ambiguity:
She was murdered, you know ! Or else things may not be so cut and dried after all.
       There are suggestions of the many layers to the characters' motivations. The murderer, for example, is fleeing not just his heinous deed but much more:
He is fleeing from himself, from cuckoos, from owls, from the night, from memory, from unseen labyrinths of fear and silence, from weariness. Like all labyrinths, these are open doors and lights in the distance that lead to further labyrinths.
       Some of the scenes are revealing, true background that suggests some of the reasons why characters act as they do -- especially the brothers. But Borrazás' presentation tends to the neutral, emphatically showing rather than telling, relying on cinematic method rather than taking advantage of some of the potential of fiction. It makes for a powerful work -- the scenes are often striking, the writing very strong -- of considerable range, but one that also feels somewhat superficial: our emotions are played with, yet we never learn enough about these characters. Indeed, there's little sense of who these people are: Borrazás seems satisfied with defining them almost entirely by their fates.
       Vicious is a strong story and, in many respects (especially the different perspectives that are shown), it is impressively presented, but with depth more implied than real the resonance is ultimately also a bit hollow. - M.A.Orthofer


Chapter 1

I’m still here, lying at the entrance to the threshing floor, looking up at the sky with closed eyes, my arms spread open and a leg stretched out, sprawled over the damp grass.
Nothing hurts. Nothing at all. True, the pain had its moment, but now all I feel is nothing.
The plank gate remains open, swinging gently against its stone frame. Moino is making circles around me. Sniffing me.
It’s been an hour and no one’s come by. Above the house the smoke from the chimney has faded somewhat and the wind makes a soft, continuous hum among the branches of the eucalyptus trees.
The clouds rest in an invisible sky. Gray, dark, cloaking clouds. Motionless clouds, heavy and low, lying in malevolent wait for events on the earth below, as if settling like dew upon the early morning. As if onto a cold, silent bed.
I can’t see him, and I can’t see her either. Those two! I don’t know what his face was like when… when did it all start? When the baby arrived, maybe? Or before that? What I did see was the rest, full on. But that doesn’t matter.
Dinner was still in the pot. The plates were on the table, the knives and forks beside them, and the uncut country loaf in its cloth bag.
It’s like wine, like wine. Wine splashing into china drinking bowls, painting them.
Moino is snuffling at my boots and rubbing his muzzle into their mud-covered soles, nipping at my corduroy trouser legs, at the ragged cuffs of my woolen sweater. He lifts his enormous head and a gust of air arcs his whiskers. Whining, the dog eyes the unpaved path, the horizon, the tiny villages scattered along the valley, where people are coming home to their dinners.
Nothing hurts. Nothing at all. My black beret is soaking in a puddle nearby, in some tire tracks carved up in the dirt by passing carts. My straight, brown hair is collecting weeds ripped up by the rain.
The dolled-up lady in black walks lightly down the path leading to Abelares. She looks like a young girl, lively and smiling in her party dress. She passes me as if dancing a jig, her arms in the air and her fingers close together. She reaches the house, steps into the orchard and turns to face me. She smiles, showing her white teeth and painted lips, and walks leisurely down the path to the enclosed forest.
The fig trees did well this year. An aroma of apples rises from under the straw and wafts from the closets, and the chestnut trees are beginning to blanket the ground with half-open seed cases. The cool night wind hums as it drives raindrops from the leaves on the trees. The plume of smoke from the chimney has faded away, although there are still embers in the fireplace – inside, under the cauldron with the ruined dinner.
The animals lie in the dark inside their pen, settled in for the night. The hens wander among the cows, pecking at their gorse bed.
Moino licks my nose and lips, lies down beside me, rests his head on my chest and snuggles up against it, eyes wide open.
There’s a man lying in the cold, wet grass at the entrance to the threshing floor. It’s me.

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