Sunday, 5 August 2018

Book Review: A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

Translated from Spanish, this is a book of two, very short stories. Both stories have a sense of fantastic realism, which in general isn't to my taste, but for the sake of 50 pages, I decided to give it a chance. The subtitle translates into 'For Children', which explains why at first glance the text is incredibly simple.The first of the two short stories, 'A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings' arguably refers to various religious symbolism, although this is not laid out for the reader to notice or even understand; the reader is told that the man has wings, but without any explanation or additional information. From an obvious point of view, he is angel, although this is not confirmed at any stage; his presence encourages people from the to recognise their hypocrisy, however this leads to a rather tenuous link between the greed of the people and the greed of the Church. In truth, the whole of this short story is left open to interpretation; what I perceived may be completely different to another view of the tale. In all honesty, this story didn't grab me as much as I would've liked, although I wasn't exactly upset that it was short either; there was no feature that made me feel as though I wanted more details or a longer version of the tale.

The second of the two short stories, 'The Sea of Lost Time' somehow managed to be even shorter than the first and just as unremarkable for me. The idea of a spider having a girls head was interesting, but ultimately the open ended style of writing didn't flow well in my opinion; exploring the theme of death, the dear of death and therefore uncertainty the life was lost in the idea that life after death may be more interesting, more inviting than the world of the living. Arguably much of the author's ideas and intentions stem from other works and ideas surrounding religion, love, life and death, the natural and supernatural. In this case there is a clear interest in life and death, mixed in with love. The character of old Jacob, a man who has spent many of his years in love with a woman had the potential to grow, but unfortunately due to the writing style of a short story, was unable to progress into a more interesting role. Of the two stories, this one has more potential as the story has more depth; for example, Tobias and Clotilde have an interesting partnership, one which changes due to the changes in the locality.

Overall, neither of the two stories particularly struck me; I didn't feel a connection with either story, but I also wasn't a fan of the writing style. At times, it felt like certain sentences didn't make much sense, although in fairness this a translated text; as it was originally written in Spanish, it could be that some of the meaning has been lost in translation to an extent as no two words or sentences can make an exact copy of another in different languages, unfortunately. Without a clear ending it is difficult to deduce not only what happens, but also where the characters stand in terms of life and death, which is one of the key themes throughout both texts. I'm not sure that I was expecting from this book as it isn't the kind of text that I usually like to read(I'm generally not a fan of supernatural realism), but arguably the concise length of the piece is impressive considering there are two stories within and both have their own fascination with death and decay. The redeeming feature of this collection of short stories is that it does require you to think; to apply a backstory and a future to the characters, as well as determine the correlation between reality and false ideas; how easily a idea can become truth. This was a three star read in my opinion, the saving grace was that the ideas surrounding life and death were interesting but ultimately the writing style wasn't to my taste; that said, it is good to read something a little different from time to time.

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