Book reviews, Culture, Globe, United Kingdom

The winter around a novel (and out in the cold)

They’ve probably had some twenty appointments; twelve nights, seven afternoons and one morning – or some other combination that makes up twenty, maybe a few more, maybe a few less. But they went looking for each other in the 187 pages of the novel and something like 7 years of literary time, and never met.


Amilcar Bernal Calderón


Each time they met, without fail, they both knew that they were going to separate and that it wasn’t worth saying goodbye because each of them were, in themselves, a farewell.

Two farewells that from time to time greeted each other. But they were madly in love; her being possessed by a man, another, whom she hated, and later flees from;; he by music, piano, jazz, and the desperate memory of her, which weighs down on him with painful resignation, a stain on his conscience like glue that will never unstick.

A fifth character (music and a painting of Cezanne were the third and fourth) is the narrator who by literature is granted the ability to speak about them in the ears of each reader.

I say “in the ears of” because throughout the novel everything is a whisper trying to hide something: a presence, a suspicion, an identity, and the desperate cry of two lovers. Like equal faces of two magnets, they cannot touch, which, you could say, is the sixth character or the leitmotif of the narration.

The narrator listens to a piano in a bar in Madrid, and the imprint that the music places on the conscience of this fervent admirer takes them back to many years earlier, to another city, another world, in such a way that the novel begins by saying:

“Almost two years had passed since the last time I saw Santiago Biralbo, but when I met with him again, at midnight in the Metropolitan bar, there was in our mutual greeting the same lack of emphasis, as if we had been drinking together the night before, not in Madrid but in San Sabastian, in the Floro Bloom bar where he had been playing a long season. 

            Now he was playing in the Metropolitan, together with a black bassist and a very nervous, very young French drummer who looked like he was Nordic and whose name was Buby.

The group was called The Giacomo Dolphin Trio; at that point I was ignoring the fact that Biralbo had changed the name, and that Giacomo Dolphin wasn’t a sonorous pseudonym for his role as a pianist but that it was the name he now had in his passport.  

Before seeing him I almost recognised him by the way he played the piano.

He played as if he were putting the smallest amount of effort into the music, as if what he was playing hardly had anything to do with him.  

I was sat at the bar, with my back to the musicians, and when I heard that the piano was hinting very distantly at the notes of a song whose title I couldn’t remember, I had a sudden feeling come over me.

It might have been that abstract sense of the past that I have sometimes felt through music, and when I turned, I still didn’t realise that what I was recognising was a night lost in the Lady Bird, in San Sabastian, where I hadn’t set foot in so long.

The piano almost ceased to be heard, retreating behind the sound of the base and the drum, and then, when walking without direction through the faces of the drinkers and the musicians, vague amongst the smoke, I saw Biralbo’s profile; he was playing with his eyes half-closed and with cigarette between his lips”

Then, at the end of the musicians’ session, the narrator and this character meet. They remember one another and the character in question begins to tell this epic tale, of the frustration that constitutes one of the best love stories I have ever read to date (the other was Beatus Ille, by the same author), the reason being, on finishing reading it, on this rainy and cloudy Saturday morning in San Francisco de Sales, Cundinamarca, where love is scarce, I felt compelled to write this review – to leave badly injured at the time, that until the day of my suicide, will keep killing.

Better written than any story or novel by don Julio Cortázar that alludes to jazz, and with the same tone of the story (I don’t recall the name) about a gypsy jazz player written by Don Eduardo Halfon, the novel“Winter in Lisbon” (National Literary Award for Narrative and winner of the Critics’ Prize in 1988), by Antonio Muñoz Molina (in my opinion he is the greatest living novelist that I have ever read and will ever read) is something that should not be missed by those who pride themselves of being lovers of the current contemporary narative. (Article provided by Confabulación).

(Translated by Eleanor Gooch – Email: – Photos: Pixabay


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