The OF Blog: Alfonso Grosso, Florido Mayo

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Alfonso Grosso, Florido Mayo

Some novels are easy to grasp.  The narrative unfolds from A to B to C, never varying in rhythm or pace until the denouement.  The characters float along this narrative stream, moving and being moved, but never seeing their plot arcs spinning out into eddies or drowned by plot undercurrents.  These novels are quickly digested, their basic themes and mechanics readily understood.  Some great novels have this quality of facility, of making its structure and form easy to internalize.

Then there are those tales that befuddle the reader, at least initially.  The narrative splinters, casting a prism's worth of lights, forcing the reader to consider these separate strands simultaneously.  Time flows backwards, if not sideways, looping around until the end becomes the beginning and a creased circle closes.  For some, the effort involved in parsing the text is too great, but for others, re-reads yield a treasure trove's worth of symbols and themes that enrich the (re)reading experience.  The difficulty (if such a word is truly applicable) in wresting meaning makes the reading rewards all the greater.

Spanish writer Alfonso Grosso's 1973 Premio Alfaguara-winning novel, Florido Mayo, is one of the latter novel.  The writing is lush, almost too ornate for early 21st century tastes.  There are passages full of coupled descriptions that dovetail into descriptions of times past or literary present.  At first, it was a bewildering reading experience, as I had to focus carefully on these descriptive passages in order to understand their relations to the narrative that was unfolding. 

Florido Mayo moves back and forth in time, from the period in Spanish history immediately preceding World War I to the beginning of Republican rule in the early 1930s.  It is a fictionalized autobiography of Grosso's life growing up around Seville, Spain, but the descriptions of time and place owe more to stream-of-consciousness techniques than they do to any naturalist or realist narrative modes.  His descriptions of life in Ciudad Fluvial in some senses is reminiscent of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County (there are even direct references to this in the novel, including a footnote that connects one of Grosso's characters, Emily, with "A Rose for Emily"), but in Grosso's use of language and metaphor, he is closer to Joyce, who he references several times in the narrative, including the final paragraph.  Yet Florido Mayo avoids aping these two greats.  The languid rhythm, punctuated with sharp bursts in the love/obsession story embedded within the tale, feels organic to the story and rarely derivative.

The characterizations take a back seat to the stream-of-consciousness narrative, but on the whole they are well done.  The story is at first hard to grasp, in part due to having to acclimate myself to the writing, but after the first few time sections, roughly thirty pages in, the pieces began to come together and scene flows into scene almost seamlessly.  This creates a narrative that hints at deeper levels if the reader carefully considers what is presented.  Florido Mayo left me feeling that I had only grasped only the surface details and that when I re-read it, much more will be revealed.  Considering how much I enjoyed this narrative of life and desire in a sleepy Spanish town, this bodes well.  A shame that this novel seems to have gone out of print, as it is one of the best examples of its kind that I have read in Spanish.

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