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on 17 February 2009
An atmospheric novel that tickled my nose and innards with its winter city streets,gloom and tension. I am not familiar with Madrid as a visitor but it seemed so darkly a part of my world, this large central metropolis of a country so recently torn apart by violence,fraternal violence. Then ghost of a the stocky dictator Franco hovers in every scene but so very,very at the edge of the stage.
Whilst Sartre told a similar tale in "The Reprieve", Cela makes this a somewhat bleaker tribute to the lost citizens of the spanish capital,with the nation settling into uneasy peace,as the world war rages to the north. The city life that we all know is here,the masses of people,the trolleycars,the underground,the cafe's,the pensions,the garrets etc. There is no implicit message in the text, in my opinion, Cela coats every scene with an uneasy knowledge that something is wrong but this never breaks into a moment, it simmers and then fades.
The last 15 pages summon images of the city awakening, the vast suburbs,the spanish names,beautiful and also hinting of decay, a dusty country,lost and losing so much since 1898, faded glory.... One of the main characters has maybe been marked by the police for arrest but we are not sure,nothing is spelt out. All along the weather matches the moods, it is night for 75% of this novel, a wonderful fragment of genius,a very rare view into a country that was almost broken by the iron heel, a casual,sometimes random,meandering and lazy heel.......there is so little spanish literature between 1940-1975..to me...Francos's hidden legacy.
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on 16 February 2013
This is the second major novel in English translation by Cela after he wrote Pascal Duarte (his first in 1942). This novel was written in 1951 and is based around the events centred on a run-of-the-mill Madrid café during the war 1943ish. The premise of the style of the story, which Cela was to extend and improve on, is short passages, interwoven characters, retrospectives and mixed up events - with a general thread/flow of a narrative - a mix of Faulkner, Jorge Amado and Perec perhaps?

So the story, there are some key characters Victorita who starts needing money to help her TB infected fiancé and ends up prostituting herself (but in a literary way as this is not a graphic sordid tale). Don Pablo, who's married and has ex-mistress Elvira, tries to find other women. There's Dona Rosa the café owner who might be persuaded to sell up. Don Aria is a jobless debtor; Leonardo Melendes is somewhat dodgy business man. Pepe is a thin poet with fainting spells. There really is a huge list of characters and I lost track beyond 14 (after about a tenth of the book) and more kept appearing and after a while I decided to give up and read each scene as a snapshot of an event depicting the passage of time as people dealt with the war and the aftermath of the civil war. It really is very difficult to keep up with everyone - apart from a few individuals; I guess you could pick a couple yourself and `follow them'. The narrative is engaging yet unless you get the squishy, fluid style I think you might find the book unenjoyable really.

This is the sixth Cela I've read and all are in this challenging style of writing (except perhaps Pascal Duarte) with some extra style idea (folklore, micro chapters etc) and clearly I quite like the style overall: Jesus Versus Arizona, a single sentence magical realismesque tale is brilliant. The others (Boxwood, Mazuka for two dead men, Mrs Caldwell) are all good in their own way so can recommend any overall. Hive being as good an example as any.
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on 15 December 2010
This book is out or print but the copy I got is in very good order.

Cela won the Nobel Prize for Literature and one can see why. This book is so well written - and the translator must be praised as well.

The story is something that, until recently, has not been much talked about, viz how bad things were in Spain following the Civl War. Cela evokes the cold and hunger as well as the lengths people will go to to get food and shelter.

Not a book to enjoy, but certainly one to admire.
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on 10 August 2005
This is one of the best books I've read in years. It's a slim volume, just over 200 pages, but Cela fills it with scene after scene, character after character. His eye for character, detail, dialogue make his cast stay fresh in the mind (and no mean feat with the Spanish double barrelled system of surnames) as they recur and reconnect throughout the book.
But the hero and heroine of the novel is Madrid itself. Cold, clammy and always keeping its residents on the edge of hunger, it seems to bear just fleeting resemblance to the city of today. No heat, no exuberance. But I guess that's the point - this is what he saw life as like in Franco's regime.
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