All Is Silence
By Manuel Rivas
Harvill Secker – £16.99
Just like contagious comedy, fantastic fiction fundamentally depends on timing and the way it’s delivered. Some might consider the former as not being quite so crucial within the world of fiction, but to my mind, it certainly helps. For as we all (ought to) know, what’s left out of writing is as equally important, if perhaps not more so, as what’s left in. And I believe all great writers wholeheartedly subscribe to this literary approach. They allow the silence to prevail.
How could they not?
They bow down to it at nigh every twist and turn of their tangential thought process.
The astonishingly gifted Galician author, Manuel Rivas, embraces this process as if by second nature. As if there is no other way, which may partially explain why I have already reviewed two of his previous books on this site: the most widely translated work in the history of Galician literature, The Carpenter’s Pencil (1998) and the simply brilliant, Books Burn Badly (2010).
All Is Silence, his most recent work, never strays too far from the pronouncement that ‘’the mouth is for keeping quiet,’’ which clearly lends itself to the circularity of the book’s title. I use the word circularity, because having reached the conclusion, I was reminded of how the more things supposedly change in society, the more they essentially stay the same. This is particularly true within the (under)world of crime and corruption – on which these 249 pages are quintessentially based – regardless of how well contained, petty or powerful.
In other words, the only certainty we are oft guaranteed in life is that which I touched upon at the outset. The unspoken.
Hence, the book’s title and the underlying theme of silence; the trajectory of which is jostled throughout the book, betwixt the two protagonists, Fins and Brinco. One good, one band, both of whom fully comprehend the perplexing polarity of such an anagram as ‘listen’ and ‘silent.’
Moreover, what’s equally important in great story telling, is obviously the actual telling itself. The language and choice of words used, is at the end of the day, paramount. Paramount, in initially cajoling the imagination, and then of course, sustaining it.
A ‘telling’ example of this can be found towards the end of chapter fifteen, where we follow Fins on a simple bus journey: ‘’Dawn cannot lift its feet due to the weight of the storm clouds. But the sea is almost calm, its blue so cold it gives the slow curls of foam the texture of ice. Fins walks along the coastal road, following the shoreline. He crosses the bridge at Lavandeira de Noite and sits down to wait at Chafariz Cross, where the bus stops. As he was walking, he watched the women gathering shellfish on the sandbank. The more distant ones looked like amphibian creatures with water around their thighs. From the window of the bus, before leaving, Fins Malpica glances at the beach for the last time, through the filter of condensation. Now rosy-fingered dawn clears a way with daggers of light. All barefoot women are Nine Moons. And he opens the book at the page about Argonauts with empty eyes.’’
One has to undeniably read the above within a certain amount of contextual relationship, but even when taken out of the situation, the writing stands up on its own. As despite what preceded it, the above passage remains colourfully compelling, not to mention idiosyncratically independent within that of its own right.
Originally written in Galician, it surely has to be said that Jonathan Dunne’s translation is truly exceptional.
Not that I’d know the difference between Galician and Spanish, or Galician and English mind. But to capture all the (silent) subtlety of musical nuance, as well dexterity and definition, really is quite something. In fact, were it not for Dunne’s translation, the English speaking literary establishment would be none the wiser as to who Manuel Rivas even was.
Were this to be the case (and thankfully it’s not), it really would be a crying shame. If not a towering loss, as The Scotsman’s Tom Adair makes clear: It’s time for reviewers and sundry pundits to quit the flattering comparisons with Lorca, Joyce and Garcia Marquez. Manuel Rivas reads like no-one else on the planet.’’