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Marcos Giralt Torrentes debut novel - originally written in 1999 but only just translated into English - comes heavily trailed by illustrious comparisons. Were told the book won the major Spanish Herralde Prize, awarded by a jury chaired by Roberto Bolano, who had himself won the same award previous year, with 2nd place given to the debut novel by Andres Neumann. And that El Pais hailed him as an heir to Javier Marias and Enrique Vila-Matis. From the English language, Ishiguro is another obvious reference point.And the ultimate seal of approval - a whos who of translators into English have worked on his books. Paris is translated by the wonderful Margaret Jull Costa (Javier Mariass main translator), and we also have a memoir done by Natasha Wimmer (of Bolanos 2666 fame) and a short-story collection with Katherine Silver (Cesar Airas English voice).Amongst all these names, the novels of Marias are the most obvious parallel. Indeed the narrative voice, in English, is so similar at times, I would wonder if this was a artefice of having a translator in common, were it not for Jull Costa having proven herself more than capable of adopting very different voices for authors as diverse as Marias, Saramago, Atxaga, Antunes, and de Queiroz. But is Giralt simply Marias-by-numbers, in the same way that so many Latin American authors tried to emulate Garcia Marquez but without capturing his magic (cough...Isabelle Allende...cough)? Fortunately, Im pleased to say that Torrente is a distinctive, and important voice in his own right.Paris tells the story of a middle-aged narrator, and his detailed reflections on his relationship with his parents, and their relationship with each other, mostly focused on events in his childhood and adolesence. His mother is by now suffering from dementia, and so unable to answer the many questions he has, which he instead turns over, obsessively and in great detail, in his mind.His father was a rogue, and not even a particularly loveable one, a fly-by-night (his sons own description), a con-man not adverse to stealing from his own wifes purse. And he was frequently absent from home, including a 2 year spell in prison.His mother, in contrasts, presents to him a calm facade and does her best to shelter him from his fathers unpredictability, while almost never opening up to him, and certainly not to anyone else, about her true feelings. While his father was in prison she offers her son lame answers for his absence, involving a illness needing hospitalisation followed by a job overseas, which he unquestioningly accepted. Looking back now he reflects that when all of this was going on, she told me nothing, her life was a pretense, a permanent charade intended to allow me to carry on as normal, to sleep, eat, laugh, wake up, go to school, and even cry, without worrying about things I had no reason to worry about or that she didnt want me to worry about. My mother was a rock, and if there was a chisel chipping away at her, if it caused dust or flakes of stone to fall onto the floor of her spirit or allowed time to erode her, revealing gaps and flaws and fractured veins, all of that happened while she was alone, without me as a witness, or, of course as a confidant...we never touched on feelings, she never told me what went on inside her or what pain she felt, if indeed she felt any pain. His mother only really opens up to him - and then primarily to reveal important truths rather than her own feelings - twice in his life, each time imploring him to pay attention and listen. The first is on the way to pick up his father on his release date, when she reveals that his father has been in prison. He isnt angry with his mother for hiding this truth, concluding that Her previous lie became justifiable as soon as she decided to tell me that such a lie had existed. It would not have been justifiable, on the other hand, if, over the course of time, Id found out the truth by myself.The second time occurs later, both in time and in the pages of the novel, when she reveals, albeit in a very roundabout fashion, a key family secret which shakes the foundation of the intra-family relationships, and indeed the readers appreciation of the story.His mother prefaces this second confession, and justifies her previous silence on this topic, with the words one often lies to and deceives the person one loves most in order to preserve their love, or to protect them. And the narrator goes on to reflect:While my mother maintains a smoke-filled silence I think about those words would seem she said quite deliberately. The two reasons she gives are quite different, and she didnt make that distinction by chance...The protecting lie is the one you admit to when theres no longer any need to protect and the lie intended to preserve love is the one you never reveal. I think this reluctantly and wonder how much my mother will keep silent about until the end of her days, and how much she is holding back until the time comes for it to be told.And this pursuit of what else his mother may be holding back for the right time or keeping silent about forever, remains his obsession, even more so now his mother, while alive, is no longer mentally capable of revealing any further secrets.Specifically, the narrator remains fixated on trying to learn the truth behind a different episode. When, a few years after his release, his mother and father separate permanently, his mother moves from their Madrid home to Paris for an extended stay, leaving him in the care of his Aunt. His mother returns, unexpectedly from Paris, and he and she resume their life together, without his father, but he becomes convinced that something fundamental happened in Paris, perhaps his mother went there in search for or even to live with his father, or something else significant. Its this pursuit of the truth behind the Paris period of his mothers life that leads to the revelation of the, seemingly much more fundamental, family secret, but even then, and until the present, he remains fixated on Paris, as if his one missing piece of the puzzle could unlock his relationship with his mother:Im always drawn back to the thought of something that may never even have happened and only exists in my imagination as a way of neutralising the different emotions the image arouses in me. I will never know more than I know now, and perhaps it is the impossibility of getting beyond mere conjecture that continues to endow with significance an event which, if it did happen, would have to be considered less important in comparison with other I know to have happened, and which she very bravely told me about when few people in her situation would have dared to so much as mention them. This comment opens the novel, while the previous incident of his mother bravely revealing the secret, to which the truth about Paris is less important in comparison, close it, giving the novel a circular quality, which deliberately reflects the narrators thought processes.Indeed Giralts style, as expressed by the narrator, is highly elliptical. The narrator spends much more time anticipating what happened (is about to have happened) and retrospectively analysing his feelings while it was about to happen - he coins the wonderful phrase retrospective pre-sentiment - than he ever does telling us about the incident or conversation itself. Giralt himself has been quoted (not in the novel) The language [the narrators of his books] use to express themselves has to reflect the undulations of their thoughts and their mimesis of details and exactitude.Giralt also has his narrator explicitly rejected any omniscience on his behalf. At the outset of his account he tells us I must make do with what I myself saw and heard. I must try to speak only of the things of which I have direct experience, even if that depends in large measure on what I dont know but can only intuit. Since its not my intention to convert doubt into certainty but simply to make sense of what happened as a consequence of my suspicions, there will be nothing contradictory about my course of action as long as everything I say is told from my point of view at the time. Any gaps other than those in my own memory will have to continue to exist, because even if it were in my power to do so, what purpose would there be in trying to investigate them further? Indeed, their fate might be precisely that, to remain unassailable in order to illuminate other gaps that do actually exist in my memory.It Is fascinating to read Giralt back-to-back, as I have, with Knausgaards Boyhood Island, as the theme of memory is key to both novels. Giralts narrator observes that memory is a great temptation, and what could be easier than to highlight some memories at the expenses of others and retrospectively draw up a synthesis adapted to what has endured rather than what actually happened?And key to Giralts novel is the inability for anyone to ever really truly know another person: however close we feel to those around us, can we ever be sure that what we know about them is true, if what they tell us is the whole truth, and does knowing or not knowing change anything in our life?Compared to Marias, his themes are less universal, or at least have less explicit attempts to draw universal truths, but not necessarily worse for it as it leaves reader to draw wider conclusions. If there is a possible weakness in the novel, it is that the meta-narrative can feel contrived to achieve the desired literary effect, for example the narrator seems remarkably uncurious about incidents such as the two year absence of his father in jail, adding to the effect when he suddenly discovers the truth, and seems unusually unwilling to simply ask his mother direct questions. Although this itself could be explained as the narrators artifice rather than the authors - indeed comparisons to Ishiguro are inevitable at the point with his blithly unaware and possibly unreliable narrators. As the narrator himself says When we think about the past, its hard to resist both dividing it up into blocks in accordance with the pattern of events that have made the most impression on us and attributing powers to it that it does not have, allowing ourselves to believe that the arrival of a particular date had the ability to work some radical transformation on us.Overall, a stunning and important work which made a deep impression on me, as evidenced by the length of the review and my extensive quotations.

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