Flavia Company and The Island of Last Truth

Flavia Company, born in Buenos Aires in 1963 and a graduate in Hispanic languages and literature, is a prolific writer in Spanish and Catalan language and translator of many genres. Her writing has been translated into English, French, Portuguese and Dutch. She is a contributor to print media and has directed and presented television programmes. She has also translated texts by Robert Saladrigas, Fleur Jaeggy, Luigi Malerba, J.P. Hodin and Italo Svevo.

"It calls to mind the mechanisms of classic adventure novels—works by Defoe and Conrad sifted through Poe’s sieve—that transform external landscapes to internal ones and explore the moral infernos of individuals who, from extreme conditions, reflect the proverbial human fight for survival."

"It explores the dark side of the shipwreck, the red line that any human being can cross under extreme circumstances; it is like William Golding grafted to Borges in the shape of a sword, expressed in austere, unembellished and tremendously effective prose."

L’illa de l’última veritat [The Island of Last Truth]

Flavia Company weaves a real 21st-century mystery of pirates and adventure in L’illa de l’última veritat. Doctor Prendel, upon hearing he is gravely ill, feels the need to tell his lover, Phoebe, the story of how he survived a shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean, an episode which resulted in his disappearance for five years from his circle of friends in New York; it is a tale of vital intensity which reaches the reader through Phoebe, who becomes the narrative voice of the story. In many ways reminiscent of the classic adventure novel (Stevenson, Conrad), and also of the early 20th-century novella (Zweig), the author writes with taut precision, eliminating all superfluities, and achieving both an emotional richness of character and the magnificent psychological tension of a thriller. The novel is precise, concise, and to the point, with a fully believable description of the scenes that unfold in the story. It is a wonderfully written novel about truth? experienced and borne? that deals with identity and dreams.

Flavia Company, a Gaze in Transit

Eva Gutiérrez Pardina

A rebel by nature, Flavia Company shuns membership in any literary generation, a concept she understands as an enforced pigeonholing established by commercial interests that are alien to the creative impulse. For all the typical attempts at taxonomy from the domain of literary criticism, Company’s work, a wide-ranging, varied corpus (consisting of twelve novels but also poetry, short stories, micro-stories and children’s stories) rebuffs classification and flows as a continuous, seamless whole, marked from beginning to end by intensity, risk and intelligence.

Comfortable in the zone of intersection and complementarity among literary genres, Company envoys blending them and subverting them, as for example in her book Ni tu, ni jo, ni ningú (Neither You Nor Me Nor Anyone), winner of the 1997 Documenta Prize. In this parody of the crime novel, the members of a love triangle compete to contract a peculiar lady killer with the ill-intentioned plan of eliminating each other. Except for the odd narrative fragment, this avant-garde work is pieced together from marginal notes and raving dialogues while the action explicitly takes place on and off a stage in such a way that the reader also discovers a work that could come under the heading of theatre of the absurd. It should also be borne in mind that Ni tu, ni jo ni ningú was planned with the structure of an opera and, here, one cannot overlook Company’s solid training as a pianist since she frequently employs musical techniques in constructing and writing her novels, which sometimes feature pianists or conductors as their main characters, for example in the book that is very explicitly titled Fuga y contrapuntos (Fugue and Counterpoints, 1989).

Her pleasure in blending and complementarity also embraces her use of languages. The short novel L’apartament / El apartamento (The Apartment, 2006) can be read in both Catalan and Spanish. One only needs to turn the book around to change languages. In Volver antes que ir (Come back before Leaving, 2012), a narrative poem of over a thousand lines, Company uses Argentine Spanish for the first time. In the Prologue, titled “Secreto” (Secret), Company describes her discovery of a diary her mother wrote at the age of twelve on a boat trip from Argentina to Spain to visit her grandfather’s village, Bellcaire d’Urgell, in the Lleida region, and how, now that she is an adult, she has found the strength to read the diary on a return journey to what is, for her too, her birthplace. This love song to her lost and deeply yearned-for mother could only be expressed in the linguistic code of her childhood.

Company, apart from the literary lie, always writes about real flesh-and-blood stories. The writer and critic Jordi Llavina perceptively remarked on one occasion that these works are «full of scars»and they help us to grow because they «always speak of the human essence, like Joyce and Beckett, who experiment but speak of what the human being is».

Intensity, Commitment, Solidarity

The characters in Company’s early novels, for example Querida Nélida (Dear Nélida, 1988), Círculos en acíbar (Circles in Aloe Juice, 1992), Llum de gel (Ice Moon, 1996) and Dame placer (Give Me Pleasure, 1999) are lonely and misunderstood, pierced by the pain of disappointment in love, driven by an eternally unsatisfied hankering to attain infinity, thirsting with revenge or even tempted to end their own lives. At the borderline between sanity and madness, they are all in quest of the impossible: the perfect love, beauty, or the return of people they loved and who have abandoned them. One instance of this is Llum de gel, in which the young woman Sílvia, who voluntarily locks herself up in the cellar of her home, watched from outside by her stepfather and lover, blindly gropes to find a way of making contact with her dead mother, aware that in the centre of the labyrinth she, too, is awaited by the inner monster. This is a novel brimming with metaphors, symbols and references to alchemy, initiation rites, and myths of death and rebirth, or of inner questing, for example those of Persephone and Hades, Ariadne’s thread and the labyrinth of the Minotaur.

In Melalcor (Honeyintheheart, 2000), by contrast, the prose is severe, schematic, almost cold, only tempered by touches of black humour and some high-voltage sexual scenes. The main character in this parody of romantic fiction, a mixture of psychological analysis and social protest, is a figure of indefinite gender, hermaphrodite, perhaps, in the tradition of such works as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body and Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex. This uncertain “I”, shackled by religious beliefs and victim of ill-treatment in the bosom of the family, is doggedly trying to keep emotions and feelings at bay, until finally deciding to be open to love and to others. Through the vicissitudes of this character, Company questions the classification of human beings under labels of sexes and genders, monogamy and romantic love, compulsive heterosexuality, religion and family. This critique of the system was preceded by the choral novel Saurios en el asfalto (Saurians on Asphalt, 1997), a utopian tale related, sometimes explicitly, with the biblical Exodus, in which she tells the story of a group of people who try to flee from Atalaya, a cold, classist and technology-fixated city subjected to the iron fist of a shadowy dictator, in the hope of reaching a new land so as to found a society more in harmony with nature and social justice.

Negoci rodó (Great Business, 2005) is the literary, ironic and parodic form of a condemnation that Company has repeatedly made in lectures, interviews and opinion pieces: the progressive commodification of literature and culture in general. The main character is a businesswoman with economic difficulties who applies the knowledge she has gleaned in a writers’ workshop to producing a novel with which she hopes to achieve instant fame and success. Paradoxically, although she has written a dreadful book, it is hinted that there’s a chance that the jury of a major literary prize will choose her as the winner, without even having read the text. In the final conversation between this character and a real writer – a dialogue that compares with the best of Nothomb – Company raises the dilemma of a talented writer ignored by the reading public and tempted by the possibility of debasing her art in order to be successful. This is a question that arises once again in the murky, disturbing La mitad sombría (The Shady Side, 2006), which brings together and intensifies the great themes of her previous books: loneliness, frustrated love, madness, domestic violence and also the drama of the artist for whom his or her gift is also a curse.

After the catharsis represented by La mitad sombría, Company moves away from this tortured expression of inner demons to reveal the unsettling reality underlying the anodyne appearances of everyday life. In the short story collection Con la soga al cuello (Dire Straits, 2009), a turning point in her narrative writing, she makes her characters deal with the challenging kinds of situations that any reader might have to face: the tense wait for results from a doctor, looking after a dependent member of the family, losing a job… The main character in one of these stories, “El río de la vida” (The River of Life) offers a key for understanding this change of standpoint: «... before, some time ago, instead of contemplating I wrote. One word after another, as many as I could, recalling life or substituting for it. Now, however, I look until everything disappears before me and only see the fact of looking, which is precisely the way of being in the world, the revelation of an instant that is sufficient in itself.»

This new gaze is evident in the last two novels in which Company reflects on the human condition and, in particular, guilt and redemption. In L’illa de l’última veritat (The Island of the Last Truth, 2010) she brings into contemporary times the classical novels of pirates and shipwrecks on an uninhabited island and explores the possibility of constructing one’s own identity as if it were a literary text. Que ningú no et salvi la vida (Let No One Save Your Life, 2012) is the dilemma of a man faced with another who has saved his life and who now, in return, wants him to commit an abominable act. Apparently different, these two novels are basically twins. Both main characters, aware that they are going to die soon, examine their consciences and confess to having committed a reprehensible deed for which, somehow or other, reparation must be made after death. In both cases, the repository of the secret is a woman with whom the characters have a special link, amorous in the former case and a blood bond in the latter. Both have an uncomfortable request to make of this woman: that she will go and see someone, leave a message and make an apology in their name. On the threshold of death, each man seeks the only thing that can save him: the understanding and empathy of another human being.

The solitary wail, weeping for impossible perfection, the lost mother or fleeing lover has become an embrace in solidarity, intimate, serene empathy, revealed in the simplicity of everyday existence. It is impossible to guess where her next novel, her next story, the verse in gestation will take her. Company observes the world with a gaze that is always in transit.

  • Poetry As Drawing
  • Massa mare
  • Música de poetes
  • Premi LletrA