Change or extinction: the keys to Sánchez Piñol's new novel

That if "everything will be fine", or "we will come out of this stronger", "it's not a crisis, but an opportunity".

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
23 May 2023 Tuesday 23:05
17 Reads
Change or extinction: the keys to Sánchez Piñol's new novel

That if "everything will be fine", or "we will come out of this stronger", "it's not a crisis, but an opportunity"... Hell is full of good intentions, but if you don't act when things go wrong data, nice words are of no use. Albert Sánchez Piñol (Barcelona, ​​1965) puts humanity against the ropes when Rome faces the end of the world in Prayer to Proserpina (La Campana), in which Marcus Tullius Cicero, son of Rome's father of the same name, investigate the appearance of a mythological monster, the manticore, which heralds great devastation. What is found there is worse: it is not a monster but several, the tectons - which had already made Pandora appear in the Congo in 2005 -, terrifying beings that destroy absolutely everything in their path. Will they arrive in Rome?

Already in the first paragraph, the narrator warns us that he has "experienced the hecatomb of Rome and the end of human civilization", and that the origin of all evil is the impossibility of human beings to change: profound change as only possibility of subsistence is the central theme of the book. Sánchez Piñol does not hide that his monsters are a clear metaphor for the wildest capitalism: "They are total individualism, they have no ties to each other, no family, no State". The Roman Senate, like the UN, discusses a lot, but no one does anything. "What is the planet's fault for your political conflicts? If everything goes to shit! Tectons advance. Either you change or you die, that's what the book is about, how some individuals, some societies, change or decide not to change, or cannot change. It's happening to us all the same, the tectons move forward, they come and no one does anything about it. What do they expect, that Australia is under water to do something about it?".

Throughout the narrative, the author explains the foundations of Roman society, such as slavery - which plays a central role - and adds elements of fantasy, such as a kind of knight errant with oriental values, the aspa, or the description of an underground world that he has explored since the age of 14: "I suffer from tinnitus and for me narrative is an escape, because the only strategy to put me to sleep is to narrate, to create stories, and then you forget about the tinnitus and you fall asleep”.

Sánchez Piñol explains why he wanted to place it in Rome: "I'm not a specialist but it's a civilization I really like, and when I'm bored I read the Annals of Tacitus. It is a world that I consider very metaphorical of ours. In addition, I have focused on the part of corruption, exploitation and injustice, since I have always been fascinated by the subject of slavery as an institution. It wasn't labor exploitation, it's that they were considered things! In the book I quote Aristotle, who says that a slave is a property that breathes, and for a thousand years it was like that, they were furniture and had as many rights as a table". In this scenario, and without it being a historical novel, it reflects "the great internal conflicts of society" at the same time as it offers a reflection on the morality and politics of society.

Book after book, he maintains the same vision of literature: "When I was a child, the book was a dimensional door, it opened a new world for you. Little by little, another conception has been imposed, which is perhaps now even the majority, which is not to explain another reality, but to talk about one's own, the literature of the self. Talking about my part, talking about my divorce, me, me, me... We are regressing, in the minority almost, and it surprises me, but I still write with this conception of literature as an escape”.

Beyond the narrator and the monsters, and in addition to historical figures such as Julius Caesar, the book brings together a very varied set of secondary characters: "I had a great time developing them and sacrificing them, too, when necessary" . As a creator, he sees himself at a good moment: "I'm reaching a kind of biological and intellectual maturity, before the decline, and that's why the narrative is more elaborate now than when I started, it's technical resources that you have to work, but when they work they give great joy, like ellipses: you will see few novels with such beastly and efficient ellipses. It's impossible not to look at the next page." "I strive to make a complex story acceptable for everyone, with complex characters who change in historical coordinates that not everyone knows", he concludes.

An elaboration that also takes into account the myths in the construction of the narrator: at the beginning "it is a version of Siddhartha, the prince who leaves the palace, discovers that there is injustice and misery and pain and takes a moral stance, and here he must decide between dying or sacrificing the world", then he becomes an Ulysses who makes his odyssey through the underworld, and finally "he returns and is a transformed Cassandra whom no one pays attention to".