Gemma Ruiz

Gemma Ruiz (Sabadell, 1975) is a journalist specialising in culture in the Information Services of Televisió de Catalunya (Catalan Television). Her first novel, Argelagues (Thorny Broom) was published by Proa in 2016 to considerable acclaim by readers and critics alike.

Style and Emotion

Ponç Puigdevall

The literary charm of this novel resides precisely in Ruiz’s great skill in managing, with soundness of style, a plausible balance of the stratagems necessary to keep the reader involved with her story. The first thing that strikes one, then, is that the materiality of the language in Argelagues is so convincingly worked with, and that this should express such compelling faith in the ability of literature to produce meaning enhanced by the way in which the text is woven. Here, the creation and re-creation of a world, and creation and re-creation of a language, are intimately entwined. Ruiz invents a narrative voice which melds with the voices of her female characters —as if, in order to understand the sense of what is experienced, she is exposing the cultured, urbane listener to knowledge amassed in long experience—and the oral language, the arcane expressions of rural life, and their tenacious disfiguration of refined Catalan become a verbal festival structured around accurately ordered rhythms. Simple forms, refrains, adages, a straightforward way of saying things with that air of “ruins of ancient stories” which Walter Benjamin believed characterised the tales of sedentary storytellers, are combined with a host of individual cases and anecdotes, secondary themes which claim for themselves a prominence similar to that of the vicissitudes of Remei, Rosa, and Nina, the three heroines of the novel.

Ruiz’s daring and poetic perseverance, brimming with verbal audacity, linguistically dense, and constituting a meticulous exercise in prosody, rejects any temptation of a regionalist reading and, if Victor Català and Raimon Casellas come to mind, it is because Argelagues doesn’t shrink from any kind of brutality, and because, at last, someone has been able to take rural prose and transform it into something else which is wholly unrelated with any archaeological recovery of a particular moment in the history of the language.

Not only this but the reader who, oblivious to the music of the words, loves facts and action, need not worry. Argelagues fits the bill here too because Ruiz is simple and direct, fluid and supple, forthright and natural in her development of the story, intense when she needs to capture the reader’s attention (so, after each episode, one naturally wonders will happen next), and wise enough to be cautious and never tiring when moving the reader.

—Your heroines face shocking episodes of macho violence. For you as a woman what was it like writing about these situations?

—I took it as my obligation to describe them truthfully in all their crudity, without sugar-coating the story. The times in which women were supposed to write without getting splattered with blood are more than passé. And if that still upsets people, then let them get upset because our writing will no longer be sanitised. And it will hurt if that is its function, and if that is what we wish.

—Your storytelling has a very marked orality and a style that departs from standard Catalan.

Argelagues is my modest homage to a rich, colourful, mocking, brilliant Catalan which, although it is alive for me, we are losing little by little every day that passes. I always like to say that if Svetlana Alexievich had asked all these women like my great-grandmother and my grandmothers what their lives were like, the Catalan they would have used to answer would have been this and not the stock Catalan of the media. I also wrote it like this because I believed the story had to be told in their language.

—What is the importance of stories like those in Argelagues when telling the story of the country in the twentieth century?

-How can macro-history be sustained without micro-history? There is a great need for the other side of the historical data, the treatises, and the whole string of presidents. On this other side, people will discover a lot of women who are in charge of their own lives, despite all the difficulties. It is essential that this should be told. It really is. And a novel can’t do it very much so the history taught in secondary schools is what should embrace this whole legacy, which has been made invisible, and is still invisible even though, without it, we wouldn’t be here.

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