One of the next year’s most significant literary events is the publication of Brendan Riley’s translation of Book I of Luis Goytisolo’s massive tetralogy Antagony (Antagonía), which will be coming out in four volumes from Dalkey Archive Press. Here is what Mario Vargas Llosa writes about this epic novel that has taken its author twenty years to write:
Besides being an ambitious and complex book, difficult to read due to the protoplasmic configuration of the narrative matter, it is also an experiment intended to renew the content and the form of the traditional novel, following the example of those paradigms which revolutionalised the genre of the novel or at least tried to do so — above all Proust and Joyce, but, also James, Broch and Pavese –, without renouncing a certain moral and civic commitment to historical reality which, although very diluted, is always present, sometimes on the front stage, sometimes as the novel’s backdrop.
Antagony consists of four parts: Recuento (Recounting); Los verdes de mayo hasta el mar (The Greens of May Until the Sea); La colera de Aquiles (The Wrath of Achilles); and Teoria de Conocimiento (Theory of Knowledge). It is a Künstlerroman telling the story of middle-class Catalan Raúl Ferrer Gaminde over the period starting with the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and finishing with the final years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. The first three parts are dedicated to the the life of the protagonist bent on becoming a writer: we follow his social, artistic, and political development since childhood and up to maturity when he fulfills his ambition by writing a novel called Theory of Knowledge which makes up the final part of the tetralogy. However, this is not a microscopic exploration of an individual fate — Antagony is much more than that. We get to know many other characters, we learn about the social and cultural ambiance of Barcelona during that period, about all the major upheavals experienced by Catalonia and its people in the course of the dictatorship. There are detailed and exquisite descriptions of rural and urban landscapes (Barcelona is represented with an unforgettable flair and verve), learned discussions on literature, politics, and sex, as well as set-in analytical pieces examining a wide variety of topics such as ancient philosophy, religion, art, mythology, architecture and, of course, the novel. For the appreciators of long serpentine sentences this novel is a veritable eldorado: any Sebald fan will feel at home in the intricacies of Luis Goytisolo’s syntax. First and foremost, it is a novel for those who have already been spoilt by the virtuosity of some of the greatest stylists of the 20th century and are not willing to settle for anything short of the brilliance brought into being by the pen of Marcel Proust or Hermann Broch. It is exhilarating to the point of vertigo to realise that this tremendous gap will be finally filled: Antagony will find a grateful audience among English-language readers.
There is only one English-language review of the tetralogy that I know of, which is available at The Modern Novel, one of the largest resources on contemporary world literature on the web. If you haven’t done it yet, I encourage you to explore this site. You can also read a brief description of the novel along with the high praise by such acclaimed authors as Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Pere Gimferrer on the foreign rights page of Antagony at the website of its Spanish publisher Anagrama.