The OF Blog: Manuel Vicent, Pascua y naranjas

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Manuel Vicent, Pascua y naranjas

Some stories depend more upon style than action for readers to be engrossed by them.  In reading Manuel Vicent's Premio Alfaguara-winning novel, Pascua y Naranjas, it is one of those novels where it is much easier to discuss the prose than the characters or plot.  Yet having read it twice in two months, I cannot help but feel satisfied by the reading without being able to pinpoint what exactly it is that satisfies me.

Pascua y Naranjas is set in a Spanish village sometime in the early-to-mid 20th century during Holy Week celebrations.  It is a dialogue-heavy story that follows the musings and adventures of a group of youths whose discourses on matters ranging from jokes to religious matters.  Their dialogue is so smooth and natural that it is easy to get lost in the rhythms of their speech.  Vicent does an excellent job developing the connections between the characters, yet it is hard to differentiate between individual members of the group.

The book is divided by days, going from Palm Sunday to Holy Thursday, with a brief epilogue for Holy Friday.  Over the course of these five days, certain events that appear at first to be innocuous take on a more sinister character, yet it is difficult to perceive exactly where the jokes and irreverent commentary shades over into something darker and more violent.  Vicent's efforts in polishing the prose, particularly the dialogues, to an elegant finish makes for an enjoyable read at the sentence or phrase level, but the plot suffers as a result.  There is action but it is subsumed by the prose to such an extent that it is difficult to discern when certain important events have occurred until later in the novel.

For many readers, this emphasis of style over action will dampen their enjoyment of novels like Pascua y naranjas.  For others, however, who find as much delight in the capture of a certain pathos in the expressions of contemporary youth, it may prove to be the sort of novel to provide an amusing diversion for a sunny afternoon.  Compared to other Premio Alfaguara winners, including Vicent's own Son de Mar, Pascua y naranjas is a bit slighter in tone and while it is very well-written, its narrative might not engage readers as much as most other winners.

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