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Reviewed by:
Robert C. Spires. Post-Totalitarian Spanish Fiction. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1996. 268 pp.

Now that almost a quarter-century has elapsed since the 1975 death of Franco, Spain’s infamous dictator, the most recent era of Spanish history is ripe for assessment. Robert C. Spires’s book takes its place alongside those of David Herzberger and Jo Labanyi as a synthesizing analysis of what now may be distinguished as a literary period. Different from the all-inclusive literary histories that emanate from Spain, these English-language volumes posit a unifying thesis and prove it with selected examples.

Spires’s book is a wide-ranging review of contemporary Spanish narrative prose from 1975 through 1989; it begins with a seminal work, Tiempo di silencio, published in 1962. The volume features close readings of thirteen novels and one collection of short stories by Spain’s most gifted authors. Spires’s underlying premise is that literature of a certain period expresses what Foucault termed the “episteme” of that time: “. . . that totality of relations that can be discovered, for a given period, between the sciences when one analyzes them at the level of discourse.” In defining this particular period, the author rejects the established terms “post-Franco” or “postwar” (which to Hispanists signifies the Spanish civil war of 1936–1939) in favor of a new label: “post-totalitarian.” From its title on, this book focuses on international political trends, along with the scientific and philosophical zeitgeist of the time, and detects their expression in literature. Secondary sources from the fields of political science, mathematics, philosophy, and linguistics are invoked, along with literary theory.

The material is divided into five chronological chapters framed by an introduction and an epilogue. The first chapter presents “The Post-World War II Episteme,” namely the decentralization of previously hierarchical centers of power throughout the western world. Chapter 2, entitled “The Year 1962 and the Postwar Years,” examines the premiere work of the contemporary novel canon, Tiempo de silencio by Luis Martín-Santos. In chapter 3, three well-known novels written between 1975–1979 are analyzed: Juan Goytisolo’s Juan sin tierra, Carmen Martín Gaite’s El cuarto de atrás, and Eduardo Mendoza’s La verdad sobre el caso Savolta. Chapters 4 (covering 1980–1984) and 5 (including 1985–1989) [End Page 1043] deal with more idiosyncratic reading selections, all by first-rate authors: Luis Goytisolo, José María Guelbenzu, Lourdes Ortiz, Rosa Montero, Cristina Fernández Cubas, Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, Esther Tusquets, Carmen Riera, Antonio Muñoz Molina, and Javier Marías. Descriptive subheadings such as “Colloidal Discourse in Teoría del conocimiento” and “Textual/Sexual Deauthorization in Te trataré como a una reina” organize these diverse texts. Undergirding all readings is the effort to demonstrate how each work “expresses global discursive practices” of its day, from rebellion against totalitarianism in Tiempo de silencio, through reassessment of gender roles beginning with El cuarto de atrás, to the emergence of a society eager for depolarization in works such as El invierno en Lisboa. The Epilogue offers a cogent defense of the importance of literary studies.

The major strength of this volume lies in its author’s knowledge of Spanish literature, world politics, and literary theory. To follow his readings and his arguments is to gain a broader understanding of historical and cultural factors at play in contemporary Spanish literature. Although the choice of texts in a study such as this is inevitably personal, Spires’s selections are convincingly presented. Translations from the original Spanish (which also appears) are excellent, so English-speaking readers will follow with ease. On this subject, a listing of titles available in English translation would be a useful addition.

Ironically for someone who celebrates literary criticism, the author ignores much of the previous scholarship on a number of the works analyzed, especially those by female authors. This is now a widely discussed topic in the field: all too often, scholars approach an interesting work by a woman author and assume that their insights are entirely original, without executing a systematic review of the literature. References to publications by other scholars...

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