The Carpenter’s Pencil
By Manuel Rivas
Vintage – £7.99
Having read Manuel Rivas brilliant 2010 novel Books Burn Badly, I have since felt compelled to investigate some of his earlier writings, of which The The Carpenter’s Pencil is thus far, the first. Far shorter than the former, it once again takes place within the appalling parameters of the Spanish Civil War, but with one major difference: it’s totally linear and is a lot less gritty.
As Arturo Perez-Reverte has commented, it’s ‘’a beautiful novel, full of humanity and tenderness,’’ which is unsurprisingly and unquestionably true. ‘’If I were a poet, and I wish I were, I would speak of a snowflake. No two are the same. They melt away in existence, in the sun’s rays, as if to say, ‘Immortality, how boring!’ Body and soul are bound together. As music to an instrument. The injustice that gives rise to social suffering is basically the most terrible soul-destroying machine.’’
The humanity to which Perez-Reverte reverts is an underlying theme throughout much of the Galician writer’s work.
Luckily for us, it’s acutely natural for Rivas to write in this way; although the same cannot be said for most readers’ implicit knowledge of the Spanish Civil War. An utterly pointless, and ghastly war that acts as a perennial backdrop throughout much of The Carpenter’s Pencil, the author writes as if we are all thoroughly well read up on the subject – which might not necessarily always be the case.
It is for this reason, this silent assumption, that much of the literary beauty herein, might partially risk falling on deaf ears, of which the following is a perfect example: ‘’The wind was up, the sea alive with the sound of accordions.’’ Naturally, such a sound will invariably ring differently in everyone’s ears, but the sound which Rivas envisions, is surely of the most sincere and specific resolution. The ‘’accordions’’ to which he refers, are surely not to be merely grappled with amid a hint of (readers) hesitation, before moving on to yet another tender collection of words such as: ‘’Barca stood up, went around the table and gently closed his eyelids as if they were lace curtains.’’
Needless to say, both of the above, and many other great lines like it, stand alone, in their own right. But the thread that nevertheless links them together is civil war. A subject, which, if in this instance, one isn’t sufficiently well versed in, runs the gauntlet of being fraught with unfortunate misunderstanding.