Another Damn Novel about the Spanish Civil War!

Another Damn Novel about the Spanish Civil War! provides an interesting take on the nature of writing and revision. On its most immediate level, Another Damn Novel is simply a re-release of Isaac Rosa’s first novel The Bad Memory, which was published when the author was just twenty-five.

Flawed, yet engaging—at least in the opinion of the author himself—The Bad Memory takes place in 1977 and tells the story of Julian Santos: a man hired by a mysterious widow to ghostwrite her war criminal husband’s autobiography. Santos’s search into his subject’s past leads him to discover the secret town Alcahaz, which has been erased from all official records, and causes him to relive his experiences as a child during the Spanish Civil War.

What distinguishes Another Damn Novel from its predecessor, and makes the book a fun read, is that in this re-release, each chapter closes with an anonymous reader’s disparaging but humorous criticism of Rosa’s writing style and techniques that can be extended and seen as a critique of mainstream, realistic writing as a whole.

No character, word, or quote is safe from Rosa’s scathing self-criticism. This anonymous reader rips apart every aspect of the novel, wittily revealing interesting insights into the writing process and shortcomings of conventional novels. He jokes about the Moleskine journals that “writers” can’t live without, the author’s inability to create believable female characters, and the author’s habit of constructing whole chapters around bizarre words chosen at random from an encyclopedia.

For example, here’s what the anonymous reader has to say following a chapter in which the protagonist—through luck and a series of coincidences—discovers the town he’s been searching for:

Fate, the easy way out for bad writers. Chance, the unforeseen, a turn of luck, deus ex machina that in this case is aided by infallible intuition, by a hunch that helps the journey move along. Fate fatefully reveals the fateful existence of Alcahaz through a photo that fatefully falls from a book chosen by fate (well, actually, a photo prettily “born from the womb of the book”). And if fate isn’t enough, the protagonist’s resolute intuition enters the game, the hunch that there is something curious about this place, accented by the widow’s revelation that her husband’s voice “lightly trembled” upon speaking the name, and that “he became furious, he told me to shut up, he lost his temper.” Hmm, how curious, the protagonist will think, we imagine him raising an eyebrow and stroking his beard. What infuriated him and made him tremble upon speaking the name? Hmm, hmm, there could be something here, we shall see, we shall see. [Translation mine.]

Although Rosa jokes in the introduction that the impertinent critic is trying to “sabotage” his work, the re-writing of The Bad Memory becomes the central aspect of the novel. But it would be too simplistic to portray this as just a clever exercise in metafiction. Instead Rosa’s desire to rewrite his first novel reflects the novel’s plot (Santos’ ghostwriting of the war criminal’s autobiography) and explores Spain’s desire to rewrite its own violent past.

By drawing so much attention to his “bad writing,” Rosa runs a risk of alienating his audience. Who really wants to read 200 pagse of a crappy novel just to enjoy some snarky comments? But by linking up to the Spanish tradition of Civil War novels with a narrative that’s actually compelling, the still up-and-coming Rosa mostly avoids this problem, creating a book that—as a meditation on the nature of authorship, as a story about the Civil War—can be enjoyed on several levels.

Another Damn Novel about the Spanish Civil War!
By Isaac Rosa
Seix Barral
432 pp., 20,50 euros

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