All the world’s a stage: On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes – My review for Numéro Cinq

My latest review for Numéro Cinq is now live. On the Edge by the late Rafael Chirbes has just been released in North America (New Directions) with a UK release forthcoming from Harvill Secker in July. This is an unforgiving portrait of Spain in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, through the eyes of one man who has lost everything:

On-the-edge

For the Spanish writer, Rafael Chirbes, there was no room in the creative process for an aesthetic devoid of ethics. As a documentarian of his native country, from the post-war years through the transition to democracy in the 1970’s, and on into the opening decade of the 21st century, the late author offered a defiant chronicle of the point where social, economic, and political dynamics intersect with the harsh realities of the human condition. He argued that if the artistic endeavour aims to stand at that intersection, no perspective could remain neutral:

A point of view situates you somewhere, in a location where potentialities—ways of being—battle one another. When you write, or paint, as when you read or look at something, you have to be conscious of the fact that the author wants to invite you to look where he’s looking. Your mission is to protect yourself. Know that they want to seduce you.

This advice, from a brief interview segment in A Thousand Forests in One Acorn: An Anthology of Spanish-Language Fiction (Valerie Miles, Open Letter Books, 2014), should serve as fair warning before one enters into the emotional labyrinth that is Chirbes’ lauded ninth novel, On the Edge. Recently released by New Directions, in a measured yet lyrical translation by Margaret Jull Costa, this book will serve as highly anticipated introduction for English language readers, to a writer at the height of his powers: a writer who has chosen, in this instance, to stand on the rapidly shifting ground of a country in the throes of economic collapse.

Find the rest of the review here

9 thoughts on “All the world’s a stage: On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes – My review for Numéro Cinq

  1. Wonderful review RG! I’ve not come across Rafael Chirbes before but my interest was piqued by the quote about authors’ agendas. It does sound like a visceral read – I may need a hankie infused with drops of lavender oil on hand to manage the stench, but this is definitely going on my wish list, and it fits the bill for my ‘around the world’ reading too!

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    • This is the first translation of his work into English (as far as I know). Sadly he died last summer but he left a significant collection of works. I think he was more of a cult novelist for many years and first became popular in Germany. He is not afraid to show the grim side of Spanish society – and life, as well. It is an intense internal monologue but broken up in a way that makes it not only readable but complex and very real.

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    • It is an excellent book. Because my dad had a stroke just after I started this and my reading time was fragmented, this book took me about three weeks to read. I took pages and pages of notes and felt, by the end, that I had lived in it. The review actually came together very smoothly and the more I think about it the more impressed I am (and eager to see more of his work translated – I understand there is another underway). In a few months I want to by a proper copy of the book and just read it again, from end to end, for the full immersive experience.

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  2. […] On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes (Spain), translated by Margaret Jull Costa Finally, the very first book I read in 2016 is probably my favourite book of the year. I wrote about this novel at length for Numéro Cinq and I regret that it has not generated more discussion. In what is essentially an extended monologue with brief cameos from other characters, Chirbes creates a memorable, engaging, and tragic character in seventy-year-old Esteban, a man who has lost absolutely everything in the economic collapse of 2008.  Thoroughly human in his wisdom, his resolve, his shortcomings, and his despair; this is a powerful and important book that deals frankly with many of the critical issues—including migration, xenophobia, and economic decline—that are more vital than ever as we step into 2017. […]

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