It’s said…

Not very long ago, fiction used to be inhabited by self-absorbed characters, slightly catatonic individuals, fugitives from real life inhabiting a false world as if there were no banks or supermarkets in cities, and as if the minutiae of everyday life didn’t affect them. Lately, however, there would seem to be a new prevalence of the wish to make reality resurface in the mirror and then to take the form of a novel that absorbs present ways of interrelating, communicating and surviving. As if the chronicle were warning the self-entranced novel to be cautious about playing its hand, the thrust of a new kind of fiction is now felt, striving to capture the feeling of a society that is no longer presented as a mere conventional backdrop to the vicissitudes of the characters but, rather, as an active creator – and an active destroyer – of values and the connections between them, a kind of writing that almost seems to be seeking to update Raymond Williams’ thesis in his study of social tensions as reflected in English fiction from Dickens to Lawrence. It is also true that there are many readers who would agree with John Irving when he said that the contemporary novelists he most admired were those who did not scorn nineteenth-century schemata, who took pleasure in the plot, invented clearly defined characters, linked up the secondary stories and respected the passing of time and its effects.

La Palma d'Ebre, 1975. Architect and writer

This is what happened with Primavera, estiu, etcètera (Spring, Summer, et cetera, 2011) and it happens, too, with L’altra (The Other). (…) Rojals is able to mine verbal gold and diamonds from unsalvageable remains of everyday life: she casts a slanting light to endow an ordinary gesture with a halo of perpetual steadiness and, indeed, this is what has always been called literature.

There is more density in Anna’s emptiness than in that of the others. This complexity is constructed on the bedrock of literary talent. The shifts between events and thoughts, between reality and its ghosts, are achieved with admirable subtlety. A psychological mesh of many capillaries spreads out and refines the relations of cause and effect which explain the girl’s personality. And this is translated into a superimposition of images and scenes almost like floating parquet. You move, without realising, from one level to another as the text enfolds you and takes you where it wishes. Dialogues fit neatly into this multilayered system. One cannot ask for more. They are both convincing and have a structural function. The love-passion story is one of the book’s strong points, as also happens in Primavera, estiu, etcètera (Spring, Summer, et cetera) with its final wild, mad sex scene. Rojals is able to assemble a universe around the sexuality of her character. There is no remorse but all the other feelings are there: a sense of being banished, thinking that the other is taking advantage of you, is dominating you, is betraying you. (…) These three elements (psychological complexity, realistic dialogues and emotional genuineness) were decisive in the success of Marta Rojals’ first novel and in the word-of-mouth growth in the number of her readers since it first appeared. There is another aspect which I, personally, find fascinating, namely her ability to see and name: a “group of remainees”, “the bend of a glass of beer”, and “the first non-kiss”, an unmistakable symptom of the mid-life crisis.

A novel can be good for very different reasons. This one is good because of the finesse with which the main character reveals herself, the world described (both inner and physical) and the author’s narrative mettle. A writer has this or she doesn’t, and Marta Rojals demonstrates remarkable stylistic freshness when she transforms sincerity into literature. In Primavera, estiu, etcètera (Spring, Summer, et cetera) there is a good dash of everyday local existence, manners and mores, rural tradition, generational chronicle and autobiography. All these ingredients confer virtues.

So far, I have not mentioned the use of the north-western dialect (and, to be more specific, that of Palma d’Ebre, where Marta Rojals was born) but this does not imply that it is unimportant. On the contrary, it is crucial. It helps in the construction of a credible colloquial way of speaking but I would venture to say that it is also innovative in its use in portraying the mental evolution of the main character: whether it is more standard language (visiting mode) or more dialectal (feeling part of the village). As for proximity, readers born in the seventies and, in particular, those who have lived in an agricultural town will find an additional generational interest in the references to music, TV series, specific experiences and so on.

Marta Rojals also shows ability and fine judgement when she makes her character speak in her own dialect and (owing to professional bias) I can’t help drooling over this. She is pitch perfect, not only in the phonetic attributes that she seeks to produce orthographically (Eliete, with the final “e” to produce the semi-open vowel which today’s young people are ashamed to pronounce the moment they set foot in the Flix secondary school) and in the morphosyntactic or lexical features, but also in her twists of language, phraseology and all the nuances of orality. The deliberate use of this non-standard Catalan is justified in Èlia as a prelude to reflection on the mixture of qualities entailed in the fact of being a “displaced” person. (…) By means of the dialectal variant (north-western Catalan) and the register (colloquial), Rojals embroiders her work with dialogues, both direct and indirect, and monologues which flawlessly portray her characters. This movement between standard Catalan and dialect constitutes, in fact, the two sides of Èlia: the one of the village of her birth and that of the big city which embraced her as a university student.

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