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Reviews Alvaro CUNQUEiRO, Merlin and Company, trans, by Colin Smith. Everyman Library. London: J.M. Dent, 1991. Pp. xxxiii, 139. isbn: 0-460-87731-3. S6.95. As Colin Smith points out in the introduction to this valuable addition to the Everyman Library, Alvaro Cunqueiro (1911-1981) is not well known to Englishspeaking audiences. He was born in Galicia, the distinct and now autonomous region of northwest Spain, and studied History at the University of Santiago de Compostela. Following several years as a journalist in Madrid, he returned to Galicia, where he spent the rest of his life editing a newspaper and promoting the regional dialect, galego, through prose, poetry, and drama. The present volume is the first English translation of Cunqueiro's earliest major work of fiction, Merlin efamilia i outras historias (1955). Merlin and Company \s at heart a compilation, its diverse short narralives loosely framed by the reminiscences of the old boatman Felipe de Amancia, who recounts his youth as a page for Merlin while the latter lived in retirement with the Lady Guinevere at a house called Miranda. 1 1ère the two formidable figures ofArthurian legend have been thoroughly domesticated. Felipe remembers Guinevere as 'tall and on the plump side,' 'an aristocrat for sure.' The more detailed portrait of Merlin has an equally light touch. Avuncular and conventionally pious, he still casts spells—though mostly, it seems, in the form of small repairs, and only after he has finished his breakfast of scrambled eggs and rosé. Many readers will see a prom-magical realism in such juxtapositions of the mundane and the fantastic. Yet the real magic here is in the stories themselves, specifically their power to feed and shape memory. As Felipe says, by way of a prologue, ? begin to wonder whether those days...aren't just a lie—a lie I've told myself so often and worked over so many times in my memory that I (the liar) have come to believe I really lived those days, that they really worked dreams and anxieties in me as though there were some magical half-idle carpenter chiselling away in there.' Cunqueiro did not consider himselfa political writer, and Merlin and Company is certainly not in keeping with the kind of social realism in vogue following the Civil War. Yet his interest in the imaginative world of Arthurian literature was both social and personal. Galicia still proudly proclaims its (admittedly hazy) preRoman past, and Cunqueiro's book promotes this facet ofregional history by giving Celtic literary matter a decidedly local habitation. At the same time, Merlin and company provide the writer a distinctly imaginative space—one that is all the more real because, like memory, it is not subject to historical fact or even probability. This aspect of Merlin and Company is most evident in the book's gleeful anachronism. We learn that Merlin and Guinevere moved to Miranda sometime arthuriana 9.3(1999) 1?6ARTHURIANA after the French Revolution, when the lady found herselfshort of cash after losing the revenue from her whale-oil monopoly. (Merlin, it seems, was in Paris studying electrical conductivity with Don [Benjamin] Franklin.) Elsewhere, Felipe describes an innkeeper at Pacios as an ugly man 'with a Kaiser Bill mustache.' The Moor Alsir tells of how he sold a magical mirror to Lady Ophelia at Elsinore, and Merlin advises a messenger to seek a one-eyed archer who happens to be the grandson of Oedipus; yet the magician also refers to The Merry Widow, and we learn ofa prince who has been tracing his beloved via Scotland Yard. The cumulative effect ofsuch time-shifts is to make history seem more of a web than a line. Like the dreams of Cunqueiro's old boatman, or even the compilation that makes up Merlin and Company, the social memory that we commonly call culture is a conflation of lies, truths, and half-truths that are difficult, if not impossible, to separate. At this stage ofbelatedness, the novel demands, who is more 'real,' Ben Franklin or Shakespeare's Ophelia? Merlin and Company will be ofgreat interest to students ofArthurian literature, and one can easily imagine it becoming a favorite on undergraduate syllabi...


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