The long and winding narrator

A ripping good yarn...with a really chatty narrator

If something can be said in five words, trust a Spaniard to say it in five pages.

I’m half-Spanish, so I feel somewhat allowed to make such a sweeping and likely incorrect judgment about the greats of Spanish-language literature. But if you’ve read folks like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Miguel de Unamuno or even Cervantes himself, you know what I’m talking about. The tradition of narration in Spanish literature is just very different from what English readers are used to.

I mention this because I’m reading The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma, an up-and-coming Spanish author. The Map of Time is one heck of a ride, a Victorian science-fiction work that hews closely to the traditions of Jules Verne without going headlong into steampunk territory. And one of the things that sets this book apart is the narration.

Now, not having reached the end, I can’t say for certain if the narrator is indeed the typical third-person omnipotent narrator or will show up later as a main character. But either way — man, that narrator can talk. The text is full of asides, off-topic solioquies and lengthy descriptions that, even the narrator readily admits, won’t result in much in terms of advancing the story.

And one thing occured to me as I joyfully followed the narrator through these twists, turns, loops and dead-ends: this stuff would send an American publisher or literary agent into epileptic fits. The demand here seems to be more about plot and character, action and suspense, than enjoying the weave of carefully crafted narration.

When I was on page 150, I gave Kate a verbal summary of everything that had happened thus far. It took me two minutes, tops. Most of the writing had been fascinating, but it didn’t advance the plot one whit. It was there for the sheer pleasure of reading, I think, though who knows…maybe some of these details will be back to haunt the story later on.

Point is, without the success Palma enjoyed in the Spanish-language markets, I doubt he would’ve gotten the time of day from an American publisher. Heck, I admit, my patience has been tested by this book. If the writing itself weren’t so colorful and fun, and the translation so spot-on, I might have given up. But as it stands, I like the change this represents from the usual science-fiction fare here in the U.S.

Then again, I’ve been told time and again that my own writing needs to ramble less. Maybe it’s a Spanish thing.

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Filed under Books, Writing

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