Luis Goytisolo - Alternately modern and historical, Recuento displays intelligent realism, emotional gravity, profane beauty, brute vulgarity, sweeping rhetorical scope, and seamless transitions through long, streaming passages of narrative and introspection
Luis Goytisolo, Recounting: Antagony Book I, Trans. by Brendan Riley, Dalkey Archive Press, 2017.
Recounting surveys the social history of Barcelona and Catalonia, primarily since the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939. The novel follows the youth and education of Raúl Ferrer Gaminde, son of a well-connected, middle-class Catalan family that embraces Franco and Spanish Nationalism. The novel’s potent drama plays out through Goytisolo’s crisp, forceful presentation of youth, humor, optimism, rebellion, violence, sexual awakening, indulgence, punishment, and the realization of one’s artistic vocation. Alternately modern and historical, Recuento displays intelligent realism, emotional gravity, profane beauty, brute vulgarity, sweeping rhetorical scope, and seamless transitions through long, streaming passages of narrative and introspection.
With its enormous ambition, Antagonía is, without doubt, one of the highest points in the history of Spanish literature. Recognised quickly as a masterpiece, this extraordinary novel still remains unknown for many readers today due to the misunderstandings that came from the decision to originally publish the novel in four parts. Therefore, this new edition is immensely valuable, as it offers for the first time, the novel as it was supposed to be read: as an undivided whole. Antagonía begins with a ‘retelling’ of the life of Raúl Ferrer Gaminde up to them moment when he decides to become a writer. The book then investigates his life as such, through his notes, writings, dreams and fantasies. As a counterpoint to this tale, the narrative steps back and looks at Raúl and the world he inhabits to end up becoming a ‘Theory of knowledge’, which is in fact the novel that the protagonist is writing. A novel within a novel, Antagonía becomes one of the most profound investigations ever undertaken into the nature of literary creation. «The best novel written in Spain—and I almost said ‘in Spanish’—in a long time» - Guillermo Cabrera Infante
«One of the most important and truly original works of contemporary Spanish literature» - Pere Gimferrer
«The most ambitious literary experiment in the recent history of Spain» (Rafael Conte).
«A magnificent human comedy, and one of the most ambitious and effective literary events of the post-war that deserves to be considered one of the best novels of the past century... Goytisolo’s innovation resides in his lucid perception of the new frontiers of the genre, which he rescues from its conventional incarnation as a Stendhalian mirror on a journey, or from a constructed realism. I have underlined for a long time a powerful idea already visible in Recuento that Raúl presents as an exalted happiness that consists in overcoming a copy of the world to create an autonomous reality sufficient in itself. Literature, according to Raúl, is not a game, but a struggle for a new reality, created by the foundational power of the word… An unusual capacity to investigate life in the middle of a verbal and technical skill, through a plurality of perspectives that include the essay, an ironic distancing and personal testimony. Without, also, losing interest in a rich anecdotal material … The long process of gestation and the distanced appearance of the author’s books have stopped us from valuing the extraordinary historical significance of this novel» (Santos Sanz Villanueva, El Mundo).
«This monumental, classic work of realist criticism of late Francosim and the Transition to democracy has not lost any relevance; on the contrary, read today it gives us a Proustian distance that allows us to better consider a difficult historical moment. It is extremely gratifying to find that this collection maintains the colloquial vivacity of its dialogues, the interest in the story and the psychological profile of its protagonists. It includes a generational portrait of the children of the post-war… A calculated rebellion, the reconsideration of possible novelistic languages, individuality subjected to the vagaries of of time and of a country and the meta-literary option that confuses life and literature, which constitutes some of the best aspects of this unprecedented work... A writer capable of a titanic effort that joins the personal with the historical. The perfect gateway to understanding Spain in the second half of the XXth Century» (Jesús Ferrer, La Razón).
«Antagonía is essential… A colossal work that puts the entire life of its protagonist into the novel. It’s a novel about novels, about writing, the story of the entire life of its protagonist, of a generation, of a society, of a historical moment that has been happily recovered by Anagrama» (Fátima Uribarri, La Gaceta de los Negocios).
«As Ignacio Echevarría says, Antagonía is one of the great novels of the XXth Century, but it is much more than a novel. I’m not sure if it is a novel to keep on the bedside table and to dip into every now and then, when we’re ready, lucid, brilliant, with time on our hands. Or to leap into with a dagger between your teeth, jumping in with passion and audacity and not stopping until you get everything out of it and truly understand it. In whatever way, like Joyce’s Ulysses or Proust’s In search of lost time, like many others—or few others—you shouldn’t die without having read it» (Antonio Martínez Asensio, blog Tiempo de silencio, Antena3.com). - www.anagrama-ed.es/foreign-rights/book/narrativas-hispanicas/antagonia/9788433972378/NH_500
One of the next year’s most significant literary events is the publication of Brendan Riley’s translation of Book I of Luis Goytisolo’s massive tetralogy Antagony (Antagonía), which will be coming out in two volumes from Dalkey Archive Press. Here is what Mario Vargas Llosa writes about this epic novel that has taken its author twenty years to write:
Besides being an ambitious and complex book, difficult to read due to the protoplasmic configuration of the narrative matter, it is also an experiment intended to renew the content and the form of the traditional novel, following the example of those paradigms which revolutionalised the genre of the novel or at least tried to do so — above all Proust and Joyce, but, also James, Broch and Pavese –, without renouncing a certain moral and civic commitment to historical reality which, although very diluted, is always present, sometimes on the front stage, sometimes as the novel’s backdrop.Antagony consists of four parts: Recuento (Recounting); Los verdes de mayo hasta el mar (The Greens of May Until the Sea); La colera de Aquiles (The Wrath of Achilles); and Teoria de Conocimiento (Theory of Knowledge). It is a Künstlerroman telling the story of middle-class Catalan Raúl Ferrer Gaminde over the period starting with the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and finishing with the final years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. The first three parts are dedicated to the the life of the protagonist bent on becoming a writer: we follow his social, artistic, and political development since childhood and up to maturity when he fulfills his ambition by writing a novel called Theory of Knowledge which makes up the final part of the tetralogy. However, this is not a microscopic exploration of an individual fate — Antagony is much more than that. We get to know many other characters, we learn about the social and cultural ambiance of Barcelona during that period, about all the major upheavals experienced by Catalonia and its people in the course of the dictatorship. There are detailed and exquisite descriptions of rural and urban landscapes (Barcelona is represented with an unforgettable flair and verve), learned discussions on literature, politics, and sex, as well as set-in analytical pieces examining a wide variety of topics such as ancient philosophy, religion, art, mythology, architecture and, of course, the novel. For the appreciators of long serpentine sentences this novel is a veritable eldorado: any Sebald fan will feel at home in the intricacies of Luis Goytisolo’s syntax. First and foremost, it is a novel for those who have already been spoilt by the virtuosity of some of the greatest stylists of the 20th century and are not willing to settle for anything short of the brilliance brought into being by the pen of Marcel Proust or Hermann Broch. It is exhilarating to the point of vertigo to realise that this tremendous gap will be finally filled: Antagony will find a grateful audience among English-language readers.
There is only one English-language review of the tetralogy that I know of, which is available at The Modern Novel, one of the largest resources on contemporary world literature on the web. If you haven’t done it yet, I encourage you to explore this site. You can also read a brief description of the novel along with the high praise by such acclaimed authors as Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Pere Gimferrer on the foreign rights page of Antagony at the website of its Spanish publisher Anagrama.
reviews of Goytisolo's books at The Modern Novel:
1973 Recuento (Recounting) (1st book of Antagonía series) (novel)
1976 Los verdes de mayo hasta el mar [The Green Shoots of May Down to the Sea] (2nd book of Antagonía series) (novel)
1979 La cólera de Aquiles [The Anger of Achilles] (3rd book of Antagonía series) (novel)
1981 Teoría del conocimiento [Theory of Knowledge] (4th book of Antagonía series) (novel)
The Trail of the Fire that Recedes
Nature of the Novel