“Amjad Nasser’s Land of No Rain begins with a beautiful sentence: ‘Here you are then, going back, the man who changed his name to escape the consequences of what he’d done.’ The themes of exile and return and the concept of identity are announced from the very start. The sentence is also notable for its particular rhythm, a slow enchanting movement which continues throughout the novel.
In a complex structure, we see Adham Jaber/Younis al-Khattat, a dissident who left the fictitious country of Hamiya twenty years before, returning as a dying man. Hamiya may well be based on Jordan, where Nasser comes from, and the city of Red and Grey probably stands for London, where he now lives. The use of these fictional names gives the novel an allegorical feel…”
“(…)It raises so many issues, both political and economic, caused by the dictatorship in Equatorial Guinea, that it attracts attention for its scope alone. The story transcends the small island and its protagonists. It is the classic and ever tragic tale of a wealthy and repressive elite keeping its subjects in poverty and isolation.
It is the perfectly pitched tone, however, and the simplicity of the recounting that make it a truly polished work. The writer has excised anger and moralising from his writing and his craft is neatly at work in the background, leaving the illusion of a story that weaves itself as it goes along. The result is a luminous tapestry of people reacting in different ways to the assaults of natural catastrophes, accidents and economic hardship.
This is the first book by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel to have been translated into English. Jethro Soutar has done an exquisite job, in particular in rendering the rhythm of the writing. It is to be hoped that he will also translate the author’s other works. ”
“The cover of the 1966 Panther edition of Juan Goytisolo’s The Party’s Over, has a woman lying on the sand, eyelashes spiky with mascara, her head resting on a naked man’s chest. I wonder how successful the publisher’s attempt to pass Goytisolo’s collection of four stories as a steamy summer read was. The book, subtitled Four Attempts to Define a Love Story, is far subtler than the cover infers. I read it in Spanish when I was a teenager, having discovered Goytisolo through his novel Duelo en el Paraiso, set during the Spanish civil war.(…)”
“Because of the subtitle, we read the book with love in mind, yet it proves elusive. The question, for the characters and for the reader, might be: what love is possible in these conditions? We are left with the sense that it is ethereal. These four variations on the theme manage to draw its outline, nothing more. It is striking that the ingredients of lust are ever present, seemingly fulfilling the promise of the garish book cover. Lust permeates the book: it’s in Loles’s young body, in the muscular arms of a fisherman, in the low-cut blouse of a Portuguese tourist. But it is a hopeless lust; those who satiate it end up discontented. It does not signal love, nor does love grow from it. When the characters were twenty, their mutual attraction might have been the start of something, but now they know better.(…)”
There is never any end to Paris. The sentence pops up, hypnotic, through most of the book. At times ironic, thoughtful or questioning, it is a quote from Hemingway’s novel, A Moveable Feast, in which the American author looked back at his days in Paris, where he was ‘very poor and very happy.’ The narrator of Never Any End to Paris tells us that when he lived in Paris, he was ‘very poor and very unhappy.’
The narrator is based on Enrique Vila-Matas and he presents the book as a three-day lecture on Irony. Irony, indeed, is the book’s central theme. The narrator quotes other writers on the subject. Sometimes the definitions contradict one another. Or rather, each one illuminates a new facet of irony. Often, it seems to be used as a way of trying to apprehend reality. The narrator’s own definition, in the context of a book that goes through so much, is vivid: he prefers irony ‘that vacillates between desperation and hope.’
Vila-Matas has described Never Any End to Paris as a parody of a bildungsroman. The narrator sounds a lot like Vila-Matas – the title of the novel he’s writing is ‘The Lettered Assassin (Vila-Matas’ novel La asesina ilustrada, is in fact his second novel but was written in Paris). The Paris he describes is a hyper-charged concentrated extract of literary life. The narrator is friendly with exiles, transvestites, writers and poets. He hangs around at the Café de Flore and prestigious literary figures are never far away. One day, when he’s walking in the street, a car screeches to a halt. In it, Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, Philippe Sollers and Marcelin Pleynet on their way to China. At a party, the narrator meets the beautiful actress Isabelle Adjani. He will use her eyes, turned towards him in murderous disdain, as those of the killer in his first novel.
The book that he’s writing progresses and matches the novel’s narrative arc. The narrator has decided to write a book that will kill those who read it and his apprenticeship is keenly portrayed. The narrator’s younger self, a pretentious young man who smokes a pipe and likes to be seen at café terraces pretending to read profound books, is certain that he wants to be a writer. As he has no idea how to go about it, he goes around collecting advice. He acquires a sense of irony and tentatively builds up experience as he writes, often lonely and desperately poor in the garret he rents from Marguerite Duras.
Although the books proffers to be a lecture and ambles off in different directions, much like a man reminiscing about his past then remembering to pick up the threads of the lecture about irony, Paris and Hemingway, it seems to be built according to a remarkable structure. Like in a piece of contemporary music, the repeated use of similar sentences creates different tunes. At one point, each paragraph begins with ‘I went to the cinema a lot,’ expanding on the idea until it has been explored in full. It is rhythmic and riveting. Then the narrator jumps to Hemingway’s liberation of the bar of the Ritz hotel, then to Franco’s death.
Never Any End to Paris is a delightful novel, both a homage to Hemingway and the lively tale of a literary apprenticeship in what was, in the 1970s, the centre of the literary world.
“Like his narrators, Maupassant wanted to experience life, and to set himself apart from the rich and the privileged. His narrators are often both brave and reckless in their search for the truth — for that clear-eyed understanding of what lies behind life’s closed doors and facades.”