... a dream-like quality; the pre-waking weirdness of associations between what is apparently known and what is unattainable ... In this second part, the author appears to work through association and improvisation. Non-sequiturs abound, as unpredictable as they are compelling, building our ability to accept wild inventions and accepting as plausible a baker whose in-demand biscuits in the shape of a pregnant dog are made from human breast milk ... Mallo’s imagination never falters. To stay with him means loosening all limitations we might wish to impose on a text. The reward is an audacious adventure ... a dream of a book.
... fascinating ... The free-associations make this a lengthy, extremely self-indulgent book that will at some point try even the most generous reader’s patience, but the reward for perseverance is a unique work that captures an uncanny aspect of the lonely but bewilderingly overpopulated contemporary experience.
... sets the mind racing with blurs and glitches—periodic and perturbing reminders of just how malleable our reality, both past and present, can be in the hands of an expert ... Far be it from me to judge a book by its factuality, but in this case, it is as though the author is daring the reader to believe, to latch on to the recognizable markers of our shared world ... We are once again thrown between past and the present, and it is here perhaps that the novel reaches its most coherent stage, despite the soft-focus through which reality is presented—a style that translator Thomas Bunstead has clearly mastered. Although Bunstead must be intimately familiar with Fernández Mallo’s prose by now, his translation is nonetheless impressive. The writing is disorienting, almost aggressive in its cyclical litany of motifs, and the reading experience suggests an at times excruciating translation process.
The narratives do wend forward, as even as there can seem an aimlessness to much of the activity surprisingly much of it is, in some way or another, goal oriented: to go someplace specific, to see something or someone. There are also substantial digressions, in various forms, throughout. Fernández Mallo does weave often intriguing stories and episodes, historic as well as experienced, into the accounts, but even with the connections he does draw, The Things We've Seen remains somewhat unwieldy -- a heap of story, rather than a coherent whole ... Engaging in its parts, The Things We've Seen can seem too loose and far-flung as a whole, a set of narratives that ultimately lose themselves too much in their fractalness.
Given that 'weird', 'strange', 'odd' and 'mind-bending' are just some of the words employed to describe The Things We’ve Seen, it is a surprise, and a shame, to have to add: 'mundane'. The task of translation is trusted to Thomas Bunstead, and this is a novel of breadth, variety, and texture; nevertheless, a late reference to 'fractal theory' as a structural model all but confirms a hunch that Mallo’s universe is the product not of desultory, surrealist magic, but of joyless and methodological experiment. Perhaps it is the natural end result of a set of characters shaped by the same niche, historical moments that they should each blur into one – that, personalities expunged, they should be each reduced to the role of mouthpiece, to exist as expounders of the philosophical themes rather than fully-fledged, living individuals.
Throughout, Mallo’s prose is enticing—at times conversational, exhilarating, hilarious, and deeply quirky. If a through line emerges, it’s in the ideas, which revolve around the trash heap of postwar wreckage and consumption. Out of this trash, Mallo has crafted a remarkable work.