“On the Edge is not a book you want to read in fits and starts. It is an anti-tweet, a brick of dense prose, that 70-year-old uncle who corners you at a holiday party, grabs you by the lapels and demands you hear him out. Your eyes sometimes glaze over, and you occasionally have to wipe a fleck of whitish spit off your face, but once you give yourself over to his story, you find there are plenty of rewards.
With the rigor of an anatomist, Chirbes demonstrates how a financial panic corrodes all manner of social interactions in a Spanish village by bringing out the worst in everybody ... On an emotional level, [the] novel makes for hard reading. Pondering our capacity for envy, narcissism, and jealousy at length, which Chirbes does for over four-hundred pages, runs counter to our instinctual avoidance of our own weaknesses.
On the Edge, Chirbes’s masterpiece, arrives as a message in a bottle among all the cans, rusting appliances, and tangled tackle. The fumes of the lagoon mix with the lingering sulfur of the Atocha railway-station bombing; the Spanish economy has all but collapsed. Who, or what, is to blame? Chirbes’s novel accuses everyone.
Is On the Edge worth reading? Certainly it gives no pleasure. But it does seem to operate like a psychological health tonic. It has to be swallowed to take effect, it’s corrosive going down, you wonder if he had to add quite so much vinegar and horseradish, but afterward the effect is invigorating.