jueves, 14 de enero de 2010

Don Quixote de La Mancha

I’d like some advice from other writers. I’ve just finished a book. It’s my fourth time through it. It might be a bit over-written, perhaps over-read. The writer found the manuscript on a stroll through a street market in Toledo, Spain. It was written in Arabic, a language of which the author only know a little, but he could see from page one that there was something special about this text. He translated it into Spanish, and then others rendered it in English. The book is a little less than five hundred thousand words. It has no plot, and little obvious characterisation. The style varies, and there are several quite glaring inconsistencies, most of which I just laugh off as inconsequential. There are no intrigues. There may be a few murders, but none within the book’s pages. There are no spacecraft, aliens, plots that threaten the earth, spies, terrorists or dog lovers. There’s not much sex, and what exists is largely imagined from afar and is unconsummated, or is very close at hand and is perpetrated by a hag with excess kilos and few teeth. There’s a lot of largely unintelligible games and role-plays, some fantasy, most of which is at the level of fairy-tale, some satire and a lot of innuendo. The main protagonists are rather sexist, racist and, by modern standards, religious bigots.

Could anyone suggest a publisher?

On the other hand, I have a novel that contains such familiar scenes that a good proportion of the world’s population would recognise them. It’s accessible, written in an easy prose that makes few demands on the reader, and whose protagonists are just ordinary people, not unlike those who might read it. It features a man who is so obsessed with celebrity and deluded by popular culture that he believes he too can become a star. No-one, of course, in modern society would ever think that. And, incidentally, it’s been a best seller in multiple editions and languages for over four hundred years.

Could anyone suggest a publisher?

I have just finished a fourth reading of Cervantes’s classic Don Quixote. I have now read it in two quite different translations, one via Wordsworth Classics and the other Penguin. The book is more like several years of soap opera episodes, series such as the Archers, Coronation Street or Emmerdale and definitely not Dr Kildare, Ironside or Kojak, let alone Dallas. It comes to an end because its author wanted to kill it off, since even in its own time it had become something of a cliché.

In some ways it’s a book that’s so ‘modern’ it’s ahead of contemporary fiction. At the same time, its scenarios need footnotes because they are unfamiliar to us. After all, soap opera instalments from a month ago are out of date. The ones in this book are four hundred years old. In essence, however, the delusion presented by popular culture is precisely the same.

At its core, we have a middle-aged, in his day perhaps elderly man who is obsessed with popular culture and celebrity. He doesn’t want to be a film star, footballer or pop singer. He wants to be a knight, travelling the countryside, doing good deeds that the role demands. One day he decides that this is the life for him and, to the consternation of his household, he decides he must live this life of fantasy. Unlike his heroes, however, his sports car is a clapped out old banger, his designer clothes are rejected junk from charity shops, and his millionaire’s mansion is the local pub. His contemporaries merely laugh at him, but he remains utterly convinced of his call to stardom.

But, and this is the crucial fact, he never loses his wisdom, however false its basis might have been. Neither does he lose his faith, though misplaced, in his own superiority. No-one else shares these faiths, except perhaps his travelling companion, Sancho Panza. He is a peasant, with a down-to-earth view of life and a thoroughly bucolic interpretation of its challenges. He proves, however, to be as wise as his master, a lord he hardly ever questions. No-one else shares this faith in the master, but then that’s the point. Life is once through. If we dream, it’s as good as any reality.

So, after four times through this great novel, I have no more idea what it’s about, or what it says than when I started it for the first time. It’s funny, and in places it’s incomprehensible. It’s absurd. It’s serious. It’s stupid, inane, both intellectually challenging and inconsequential at the same time.

I am also a few thousand words from the end of a modern parody of Don Quixote, which I hope is as focussed as its inspiration. Can anyone suggest a publisher?

View the book on amazon
Don Quixote (Penguin Classics)
Don Quixote (Wordsworth Classics)

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