Sunday, 9 March 2014

Death all over


Full title: The 6th of November
Author: Pablo Solares-Acebal
Publisher: Amazon Digital (2014)
Genre: Fiction, historical
Attributes: 134 pages, e-book

On the scale of zero to oneZERO (i.e. advance reading copy)

As I am uploading this review, the short book I am looking at is hours away from being released in the UK and Australia, in English translations, after having been publish in Spain in 2011. I am building my discussion from an advance copy received from the author himself, Pablo Solares-Acebal.
I don’t want to talk about characters or plot in this novella. They are issues easily noticeable, with their pluses and minuses. The story is situated between 1935 and 1939, during the so-called Second Spanish Republic and Spain’s Civil War, and this is enough groundwork to establish the setting and the cause of the entire narrative.
I want to talk instead about the central element in the book: Death. Death is immensely present in The 6th of November. People die and are threatened with death, they cheat death and plan the death of others, they look death in the face, they return from death to haunt the living, they are executed, tortured, martyrized, punished; they meet the dead and talk to them in ways that seem odd only in hindsight. There is a psychic who converses with the Otherworld, and there is Gloria too, a young woman the victim of a grave misunderstanding never fully resolved, who also perceives death from the perspective of an in-between. Death is so present it becomes a never-ending hallucination. So much so that Gloria, who at some point declares “I don’t understand life,” wonders what the physical form of pain may be. She finds it to be “an incandescent, fiery stone, which never loses its heat.” It’s this permanence of death that makes it central to the entire book. Through it, death becomes historical and fictional at the same time. It acquires the palpability of the everyday but at the same time works like a concept – like a myth.

The Civil War, which marked the end of the Second Spanish Republic,
provided plenty of opportunities for death to surface
Source: The Guardian & The Observer
A narrative device that must be pointed out because it comes in line with this omnipresence of death is the use of an omniscient narrator who appears in the first person but operates in the third, in other words – from outside himself. This is Don Paco, the priest in the village of Requejado. He has had access to most of the events. He can provide an objective perspective, yet he judges every event subjectively. Like all the other in-betweens in the novel, he too is an intermediary. He tries to keep events on a right track when everything seems to be crumbling around the world he and the others live in. He speaks to the major characters and knows their secrets, but he also has his own death to account for. Yet the most important thing about him is this capacity to move about, linking the actions of the other characters: his omniscience, in other words. The omniscience and omnipresence of death replicated in the omniscience and omnipresence of a character who swings invisibly between first and third person.