Chirbes' novel is a quite powerful book of testimonies and (often frustrated) experiences, an indictment of post-Franco Spain that has barreled more or less blindly (though also, in the case of Rubén, decidedly clear-eyed) ahead, damn too many of the consequences. The tight cast of characters -- even with the few looser ends, such as Matías' son, barely a presence, or Silvia's son, sent off to Edinburgh without being told his uncle has passed away -- and their relationships work quite well in support of the story, even as the dead man himself remains surprisingly far in the background much of the time. Chirbes' style, the sections each a single paragraph of often dense flow, is effective too. It makes for a powerful novel of its time and place.
... reclaim[s] a decayed form of modernism to castigate the late aughts’ feast of mammon. [Chirbes'] critique is portable, though it centers on Spain ... To render capital visible Chirbes relies on grotesque, fantastic, and sometimes inscrutable corollaries: disease, millenarian gesture, art history, bucolic parable, mythic association, and sexual appetite. This pliability is in some sense the point. Chirbes is repulsed and fascinated by the fluidity of the market, its ability to totalize experience. The bracing structures of his fictions nimbly evade such mercenary logic. They may be operatic and relentlessly melancholy, but they are assuredly not products ... deeply pessimistic ... benefit[s] from the velocity of Chirbes’s remarkable prose—thrillingly translated by Valerie Miles ... a raging stream of consciousness in which bits of history, memories, hesitations, wishes, and dreams fleck the foaming surface.
Chirbes has a larger economic theme, but he’s also concerned with the way money affects family and friendship. His prose can be dense and disorienting but it’s always intelligent, and the translation by Miles seems excellent. While the main voices are generally distinctive, they all offer the author a convenient surrogate for brief rants and lectures on everything from art to literature, sex, money, aging, flowers, marriage, politics, history, and much more ... A challenging excursion from one of Europe’s most distinctive voices.
Spinning the story out from multiple perspectives, including Ruben’s 29-year-old second wife; one of Matias’s close confidants; and a former underling of Ruben’s, Chirbes imbues the characters with passion and intellect. There’s no conventional plot, but what emerges is a strong sense of late 20th-century Spanish culture and politics, especially through Ruben ... adds up to a fascinating look at human interactions.