“South”: Antonio Soler sets fire

A city in southern Spain. Is it Malaga, where Antonio Soler was born in 1956? City of misery and sweating, of which he recounts a particular day.

“The sun takes over everything. They burn, the stones; and they spit heat, the metals, the bodywork of parked cars, the inflamed air. The light concentrates like a magnifying glass lens chasing people through the streets. »

These heroes of a day, whom Soler cooks on his literary plancha, are called Céspedes, the man-Truffaut who loved all women, and in particular Carole, the pretty Frenchwoman whom he is flirting with at the moment; Ismael, a hyperviolent young man who dreams of murder and fornication; Consuelo the Giant, a curvy girl whose comings and goings Ismael spys on to take the elevator with her once again, in the promiscuity of a desire that never dares to speak its name. Or Dr. Galán, whose husband has just been found almost lifeless, his body covered in insects in a vacant lot. The silhouettes intersect in the course of a story that follows the random walk of the ant, and does not fail to make one think of “Manhattan Transfer”.

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Narrative Maze

Except that Soler’s novel, unlike that of Dos Passos, is far from being an optimistic “Iliad” extolling the glory of modern megalopolises. It is rather the requiem of an implacable urbanity where animals and humans seem caught in the same glue from which they will not succeed in extracting themselves. The blind streets, the dirty walls, the windows open on the illusion of gaining a bit of fresh air, and then Eusebia, the Peruvian servant who works for Dionisio, Lucía, the Athlete’s fiancée who runs endlessly and writes endlessly end, Malcolm, the editor of whom, in the appendix, we learn that he is “member of the Finnegan’s Order, like Jordi Soler and Enrique Vila-Matas”.

A dictionary of characters, at the end, is usefully added to the story, allowing you to find your way through this narrative labyrinth where new characters appear on each page. Soler is not a disciple of Joyce for nothing, with these solitary sentences which suddenly fly away to land a dozen pages later, and these rhythmic stanzas which monopolize the novel and pull it towards poetry. Is the trip too experimental? It’s possible. But “Sud” will leave you with unforgettable memories, and it is non-stop until its formidable terminus: the burning center of the human heart.

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South, by Antonio Soler, translated from Spanish by Guillaume Contré, Rivages, 562 p., 23 euros.

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