27 oct. 2015

Esperança Camps' Naufragi a la neu: A Review.

Esperança Camps, Naufragi a la neu (Alzira: Bromera, 2011). 214 pages.

Fortunately for us readers, literature has endless possibilities for mirror games. When re-creating a creation produces reflections as varied and meaningful as those produced by Camps’ skilful narrative technique in this novel, Naufragi a la neu [literally, Wreck in the snow, although an alternative translation for the title could be Failure in the snow] the result can be delightfully playful.

Take Cristina, a youngish ex-drug addict who was rescued from the squalor and wretchedness her life had become by a charitable middle-aged woman, Teresa, in an ugly, tacky Mediterranean city on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula no one can fail to recognise: my home town, Valencia. For reasons we are never completely told (Camps can also conveniently leave gaps where appropriate) Teresa saves Cristina from herself and probably from a certain and premature death, too. They become an item in more senses than one, and in time Teresa will give her young paramour an education. Cristina embraces literature while disengaging herself from all the vices and substances that used to be part of her bodily fluids, and just before their breakup she is invited to go to a writers’ retreat in the mountains.

The place has been snowed in: it should be an ideal situation for her fresh talent to flourish. The main character of the novel she is writing is Paco el Moix: an ex-convict, Paco survives in an all too familiar jungle of poverty and drug deals. The man has no scruples and will stop at nothing just to get a few euros with which to buy the next dose. When he the opportunity to do a big job come his way (a bank robbery in a small town), he does not hesitate to join two gun-toting Slavic thugs who treat him with absolute contempt. Will they succeed in getting away with the money?

It’s raining and I’m the woman in the wide-brimmed hat who is reviewing some papers and travels in Compartment C, Car 193 by Edward Hopper, who always painted loneliness. The thick, viscous unsought for loneliness that falls on your eyelids and corrodes your spirit. So many book covers have been illustrated with Hopper’s unreal atmospheres! I am who I want to be, and I know I’m fleeing. (p. 1, my translation) Image sourced from www.museumsyndicate.com/item.php?item=9758
If this were the whole plot of the novel, the book would have never seen the light of day. But because this is not what Naufragi a la neu is about, the reading is far more interesting than simply crime fiction. Camps presents the reader with three parallel texts. The first one is Cristina’s journal, where she confesses her fears, her aspirations, her miseries. The second one is the story Cristina is writing about Paco el Moix, which hardly ever goes for too long and is cleverly and frequently interrupted by a third voice, that produced by an anonymous narrator, who makes it first appearance in brackets, interrupting Cristina’s crime story.

Cristina’s stay at the mountain retreat eventually becomes some sort of mirror where she will need to confront the reality of her personal failure. Is Cristina the product of the narrator’s imagination? Or is the “narrator”, the intrusive narrative voice that nudges his/her way into the text the product of Cristina’s imagination (as Cristina appears to suggest in her journal)? Or are they all the result of yet another creator working at a higher level? Is it Teresa perhaps? Or Esperança Camps? We will never know because we are never told.

The metaliterary game played by Camps is remarkably thought-provoking. Towards the end of the robbery story, Cristina shows pity for Paco el Moix, whom she would have liked to kill in her fiction since she could not do so in real life. Was the narrator’s influence on this narratological choice determined by his/her affection for Cristina? Do these decisions mirror each other?

A story within a story is given an even wider narrative framework through the disruptive intervention of the anonymous narrator: “(this is not the way, I know, I’ve got no excuse to barge into the text Cristina’s writing, I’ve got no reason to do so, it’s one of the basic rules of the profession: our presence in the novel must not be noticed, but since I’ve already breached the precept of invisibility so many times, one more will hardly matter; I’ll make the most of the darkness in this room now that she’s gone down to supper and has left her laptop on, it looks like she intends to keep on writing when she comes back upstairs, that’s a good sign; oh, how I hate waltz! This one I can hear now, too, this one by Hans Christian Lumbye, so fat, with an insufferable moustache, the music he wrote seems to me too slimy… I’m going around in circles, I’m moving the cursor up and down because I know what I’m about to write is reckless, because I know I can’t sneak into Cristina’s novel to say that, despite my initial reticence, I like this woman, there, I’ve said it, I like Cristina, head over heels, there, it’s written, it makes me happy to hear her by my side, adjusting the pace of our thoughts, to think up what she writes, I like her so much! Even though I am no one, I don’t have any feelings, I don’t have any feelings? How can I write without feelings? I should not have written the word ‘feelings’ three times, and that one makes it four, it is an unnecessary reiteration, and now I need to write that I don’t have an identity, nor any need to love or be loved, that I’m just a simple narrator…) [p. 111, my translation].

Naufragi a la neu was awarded the 31st Blai Bellver Prize for Fiction, and I believe it was thoroughly deserved.

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