An Introduction to the Literature of Mallorca

Dear Mr Foreign Critic
Bauçà - el canvi1
Vicens - tierra seca (spanish)1
Bauçà - rue marsala1
A robust, passionate and eloquent defence of Mallorcan Literature by Sebastià Alzamora. Translation by Graham Thomson.
Accept, at the outset, my most cordial greetings, my sincere and profound admiration for the whole corpus of your endeavour, which has done so much to illuminate the judgement and shed light on the path of many readers in your country and across the continent. Accept also, from this moment - and this I am loath to say, exposing me as it does to the risk of your misinterpreting me - the humble yet forthright expression of my scepticism, because I really do find it difficult to understand the reasons for your interest.

Your request (which, have no doubt, reached the person to whom you had addressed it, but by one of those twists of fate has ended up being placed before me) your request, then, said that you wanted information, however summary, about the prose fiction that has been written and published on the island of Mallorca in the last few years. This interest, I repeat, arouses distrust because it is so entirely unwont and extraordinary, above all when it comes from one of your standing and bearing in mind, moreover, that the fiction being written on Mallorca, according to certain oracular voices fully invested (because they invested themselves) with authority, is of no interest even to its immediate potential readers, who would in the first instance be the natives of the island of Mallorca or, to be hair-splittingly precise, those natives of the island of Mallorca who devote their moments of leisure to writing prose fiction.

I sincerely believe this caricature - tempting as caricatures always are - to be not only false but perfidious, and in saying this I am well aware that endorsing it would spare me the effort of presenting you with a more consistent and better-argued response. Similarly, I could stray from the case in point and take refuge in the conviction, so widely asserted by a number of voices at least as prestigious as yours, that the novel is a social phenomenon as endangered as the model of society that allowed it to come into being, and that to search for such remains of something presumably dead and buried as might have survived in a space as evidently confined as the largest of the Balearic islands is a rather lugubrious endeavour.

Having said that, an overview of modern prose fiction on Mallorca is of interest for more than one reason, beginning with the fact that modern prose fiction did not begin to be produced on the island until 1932, the year of the publication of a kind of novel entitled Mort de dama (bear in mind that its author, Llorenç Villalonga, pointed out on the first page that it was - not really a novel). In other words, the modern novel arrived on the island eleven years (sic) after the publication in Paris of Joyce's Ulysses, when those in the know were already at pains to proclaim the death of the novel. Be that as it may, over the years Llorenç Villalonga was to become recognised as one of the outstanding names of the true golden age of Catalan literature, namely the century now coming to an end, and without a doubt (as Jaume Vidal Alcover said, and I am happy to repeat) the most important Mallorcan writer since Ramon Llull.

The fascination of Bearn (1954) constituted the real emergence and the real placing of Mallorca on the map of western literary modernity, in keeping with the lessons learned from a certain strand in the French novel, humanist, psychological and rational (some-one once said that the French are the Greeks of modernity, and I am happy to repeat that, too), that would run from Stendhal to Gide by way of the monumental work of Marcel Proust and the indispensable contributions of Gustave Flaubert.

But Villalonga is a very rich subject, and this is neither the time nor the place to go into it. You will be pleased to know, all the same, that this entry into its own time - a late but real entry - of the prose fiction written on Mallorca was not consolidated until a good few years later, with the so-called seventies generation, which swapped the watchword of modernity for that of normality and, in one or two particular cases I shall detail for you in a moment, for that of transgression. Before the appearance of this group - because it was a group - in practice three, only three solitary links had ensured the continuity of the chain initiated with the always gloriously juvenile satire of Mort de dama.

These three links were Blai Bonet, Miquel Àngel Riera and Baltasar Porcel. There was a fourth supplementary link, in the person of the above-mentioned Jaume Vidal Alcover, but in fairness to the truth it should be said that this writer's interventions in the realms of poetry and, above all, the essay have been far more felicitous than in that of prose fiction.

At the same time, it is important to focus attention on Bonet, Riera and Porcel because it is more than likely that you are not familiar with any of the three, and also in order to situate ourselves fully and rigorously in the present; at the time of writing this letter, it is just a year since the death of Blai Bonet, and two years last summer since the death of Miquel Àngel Riera, my point being that these are two perfectly coetaneous authors, who were publishing new work until very recently. It could certainly be said of Blai Bonet that he was an excellent novelist; uneven, of course (the epithet 'uneven' has attached itself to this writer's name as surely as 'brilliant' has, to the point of constituting two terms that if not synonymous are at least clearly complementary), but above all powerful, stimulating, provocative, innovative, dense and moving in the extreme, as he demonstrated in El mar, Mister Evasió and two of his magmatic incursions into the literature of the self: La motivació i el film and Pere Pau (we must keep a sharp eye open here for an unpublished prose text, if Bonet really did leave it in a form fit for publication, entitled Ramon).

For his part, Miquel Àngel Riera put forward (as Vicenç Llorca affirms in his essay Salvar-se en la paraula) a poetics of voluptuousness and the possibility of redeeming the mortal condition through the human capacity for aesthetic improvement in novels such as Fuita i martiri de Sant Andreu Milà, Morir quan cal, Panorama amb dona and, particularly,
Els dèus inaccessibles
and Illa Flaubert. Finally, Baltasar Porcel is not only still alive but, as far as can be deduced from such recent titles as Ulisses a alta mar, Mediterrània, Onatges tumultuosos, El cor del senglar or L'emperador o l'ull del vent, in splendid creative form.

The seventies generation as such (to which I referred above, known in its day by the alias of the boom in Mallorcan fiction) has for the most part evolved from the epic social revolt of its early works to a variety of far more personal and lyrical formulations. It is worth noting here the recent work of Gabriel Janer Manila, who has constructed in novels such as Paradís d'orquídies, Lluna creixent sobre el Tàmesi, La vida, tan obscura and Els jardins incendiats a distinctive and ambitious overview of the great historical movements that have affected Mallorca and Europe over the last hundred years on the basis of the tortuously introspective - at times truculent, always tragic and grotesque - inner worlds of his characters. After six years of silence, Antònia Vicens has made a very noteworthy return, full of narrative perspicacity and psychological penetration, with Febre alta, while Maria-Antònia Oliver has had a taste of success with two novels of great delicacy and bitterness: Joana E. and Amor de cans. Frontera, after an attempt at a genre novel with La ruta dels cangurs, has pursued a path curiously similar (in the subtlety of the premisses and the quality of the results) to Maria-Antònia Oliver in Un cor massa madur. But the group also has its dissidents, of course, its irrepressible individuals, as Biel Mesquida, Damià Huguet and Miquel Bauçà serve to demonstrate. After losing his way in Doi, in Excelsior Mesquida has rediscovered the path begun with L'adolescent de sal, effectively knocking it into shape and bringing it up to date.

Although the excellent poet Damià Huguet had time only to put together a single volume of prose before his premature death, this is a well-rounded book, made up of a series of short prose pieces in autobiographical mode under the title Les fites netes, and a real delight of construction, linguistic, narrative, sentimental and moral. And Bauçà! Take my word for it, Mr Foreign Critic: he is the greatest of all. His fiction has evolved through various degrees of degradation to arrive at a dazzling redemption. Thus, L'estuari saw the creation of a claustrophobic alternative world, fashioned entirely from the power of its unchallengeable language; Carrer Marsala was a prose poem on marginality; the short stories of El vellard. Vescarcellera explored the most painful squalor, and finally, just when he seemed to be coming to the end of a blind alley, Miquel Bauçà got himself off the hook with that magnificent, inimitable book, that divine, diabolic and supremely human dictionary, El Canvi, for a proper appraisal of which we must wait a few years yet. In other words, my friend, a book you should make every effort not to miss.

The three links immediately following the consolidation of the seventies generation bear the names of Carme Riera, Valentí Puig and the Ibizan Antoni Mari. Carme Riera is currently one of the most solid and popular figures in Catalan fiction, and Dins el darrer blau, a historical novel with all the spirit, ambition and creative enthusiasm the genre demands, she has fully confirmed her position. The same guarantee of solidity can be extended to Valentí Puig, a tremendously versatile writer who seems equally at home in the essay, travel writing, journalism, poetry and prose fiction, and recognizes no limits other than those of his own exacting standards of quality, apparent in his nouvelle Primera fuga and in his essay on Josep Pla, , two landmark works among the many published in the last few years. Something similar can be seen in Antoni Mari, who after gaining a considerable reputation as a poet and essayist went on to explore prose fiction in the short stories of El vas de plata and the philosophical novel El camí de Vincennes, which have placed him high in the regard of the most discerning readers.

No need to worry, we are coming to the end now. Among the younger talents, the most established is undoubtedly Maria de la Pau Janer, an able and intelligent writer who with titles such as Màrmara, Natura d'anguila and Orient, Occident has achieved the difficult and much sought-after conjunction of literary ambition and commercial success. Alongside her, the Menorcan Joan Pons has reoriented the discourse of magic realism - yes, it had some usable qualities - with Nàufrags and El laberint de les girafes, while Miquel Bezares has constructed a very attractive space between the generic demands of the short story and the lyrical cast of his poetry in Susanna i l'estranger, Plaça d'Àfrica and Quan els avions cauen. Hector Hernández has made a spectacular début with Qui s'aùnta a matar la meva mare?, an impetuous novel of end-of-the-millennium urban realism that is nevertheless several degrees short of maturity. And just recently two new writers have appeared on the scene with books of memoirs in a style as sober as it is satisfying: Antònia Ordines with Caramells de l'auba, and Neus Canyelles with Neu d'agost.

And we can leave it here for the time being, Mr Foreign Critic. I hope you will excuse my verbosity and the paltry nature of this information. In any case, you will share my feeling that the panorama is sufficiently bleak for us to say definitively that the novel is dead and that on Mallorca they haven't yet discovered it.

Yours faithfully,

Sebastià Alzamora.






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