Novel set in Victorian Birmingham
Novel set mainly in Catalonia
6th September 2018
Confessions by Jaume Cabré, novel set mainly in Catalonia.
Confessions is the story of Adrìa Ardèvol, a man of sixty losing his memory to dementia, as he re-examines his life, from his lonely childhood parented by a cold and indifferent mother and an overbearing father, through his university years, his loves, and his adulthood as a professor at a Barcelona university. As Adrìa tries to understand and to some extent come to terms with his antique dealer father, he is confronted with his dark and sordid past along with a terrible crime. Secrets unravel from the shadows and unscrupulous acts are revealed. Before he loses his memory altogether, Adrìa, a thoroughly likeable man, must struggle with guilt, loss, alienation, love, rejection, desperation and betrayal.
Meanwhile, a carefully interwoven backstory traces the life of the violin in Adrìa’s possession, Vial, a Storioni. Cabré takes the reader through scenes of its creation, the very wood it was made from, the tree felled to provide that wood, even the seed that produced that tree. Then, on Vial’s journey from one owner to another, from acquisitive collectors and genuine musicians through to swindlers, cheats and thieves. The combination of personal story with the grander story of the violin draws the reader into a powerful narrative, at times amusing, others tragic or shocking, often mysterious and always compelling.
Confessions is an introspective read, demanding at first as the reader acclimatises to the style, a novel requiring concentration as one scene shades into another, even in the middle of dialogue. Yet this fluidity, this bleeding of one scene into another, renders Confessions a masterpiece of construction and narration. Lingering questions are answered as the story meanders and progresses, each lesser revelation building to an unexpected climax, the poignancy felt from the first page fully realized. The problem Adrìa struggles with the story answers, the denouement providing a startling twist, forcing the reader to take a step back and ponder long and hard.
At times, some of the wit may be lost on those who, for example, know little of the philosophy of religion, or classical music, although Confessions is far from inaccessible or pretentious. A sense of place must be gained imaginatively as it is not presented. Physical location is sparsely described. A sense of historical place is strong. Catalonia dominates, along with parts of Italy, Germany, Holland and Paris, as the story slices through five hundred years of European history.
Confessions contains an exploration of the power we hold over each other’s lives, of excellence versus mediocrity in the pursuit of creative passion, and above all of evil in all its forms. The evils meted out down the ages by the dominant forces of Church and State, from the Inquisition through to Francoism and Nazism, are portrayed through characters as despicable, as ruthless and as amoral as it is possible to be. Yet these greater evils of unimaginable cruelty are juxtaposed with lesser evils, enacted with indifference by those around us when presented with the opportunity to act without conscience. For evil is, in the final analysis, an unscrupulous opportunist.
This is a novel to be read on a long holiday in Barcelona and surrounds, seated, comfortably and in solitude, somewhere tranquil. Or just to be read regardless, for there is much to savour, much to reflect on and much to learn from in this book. It truly is a masterpiece.
Isobel Blackthorn for the TripFiction Team
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