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Reviewed by:
  • Paul Ilie
Janet Pérez and Stephen Miller, eds. Critical Studies on Gonzalo Torrente Ballester. Boulder: Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies, 1989. 196 pp. $40.00.

Best sellers and postmodern fiction rarely originate in the same author, but Spain's eighty-year old Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, born into the same generation as Nobel Prize winner Cela, indeed successfully mixes conventional realism with metafictional fantasy. However, Torrente's career follows no linear sequence. The fifteen critical essays in this collection suggest that his penchant for parody, together with an abiding interest in myth, reveal themselves early and continue into maturity while alternating with such realistic novels as the trilogy Los gozos y las sombras.

Torrente circumnavigates the straight course of contemporary narrative history from the Joycean intellectual hero (Javier Marino 1943) to the science fiction and/or serious spy novel of Hawkes, Pynchon, Burgess, Calvino, and Fowles (Quizá nos lleve el viento al infinito, 1984, studied in this collection by Kathleen Glenn). Torrente's long-term narrative diversity, no less than his affinities with international currents, stands out in this collection of fifteen essays.

Janet Pérez summarizes the main points of each essay in a panoramic Introduction. Stephen Miller and she divide the collection into three groups: studies of individual works, of techniques and themes common to several novels, and of Torrente's literary theory. Despite these distinctions, the studies coincide in enough concerns to produce a connecting axis of critical problems inherent in most of Torrente's fiction. The most recurring observations involve his ironic and self-conscious humor, his metafictional subversions, political demythifications, and preoccupations with multiple-narrative personalities.

Torrente's lesser-known works share prominence in this book with the more popular ones. The 1951 novel La princesa durmiente va a la escuela comes under a [End Page 639] speech-act analysis by Leo Hickey and reveals its echoes of Tristram Shandy and Don Quixote by virtue of "floutings of the Consistency maxim." The worrisome issue of Torrente's youthful alliance with right-wing movements surfaces in other early works that thematize fascist ideology, except that they apply mythological vehicles parodically in order to elude censorship, as Margarita Benitez shows for Ifigenia and El retorno de Ulises. Further light on Torrente's opinions emerges from an interview with Francisca and Stephen Miller, published here.

Torrente's fiction's political underside is exposed by Frieda Blackwell's comprehensive view of literature-within literature. Despite his ludic postmodernism, the fiction-history relationship is reversible, as Lynne Overesch-Maister shows. Torrente complicates his intellectual task by his fiction's proteic dimensions, notably the metafictional characters in novels like Fragmentos de apocalipsis, described by David Herzberger, and the multiplication of narrative personality in Yo no soy yo, evidently, described by Carmen Becerra. Nevertheless, whether it is a quest for purity in a miracle play, as presented by Robert Nugent, or a conflict of good and evil in the apocalyptic terms described by Amparo Pérez Gutiérrez, Torrente lends himself to the formalist and intertextualist approaches of Santiago López Torres, Jaime Carbajo Romero, and Genaro Pérez.

Ultimately one turns for guidance to Torrente's historiographical and artistic concepts, here represented by his aesthetic of grotesque reality, explained by Angel Loureiro, by the compendium identified by Janet Pérez in La rosa de los vientos, and, finally, by the "Apuntes literarios" studied by Miller.

Paul Ilie
University of Southern California


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pp. 639-640
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