“South”, by Antonio Soler: In Malaga, in the footsteps of James Joyce

“Sud” (Sur), by Antonio Soler, translated from Spanish by Guillaume Contré, Rivages, 562 p., €23, digital €19.

A simple look at Irish soil was enough for Antonio Soler to come up with the idea of South, her seventh novel. At least that’s what he explains when asked about the genesis of his book. Half a dozen years ago, the Spanish novelist was in Dublin for Bloomsday (the day that commemorates James Joyce and his novel Ulysses – published in 1922 –, every June 16), with his companions from La orden del Finnegans, “the order of the Finnegans”, a group of Spanish-speaking writers who worshipUlysseswhich he founded in 2008, notably alongside his compatriot Enrique Vila-Matas and Mexican Jordi Soler (a namesake). “I noticed on the pavement near Trinity College a plaque indicating that at this precise place one of the scenes ofUlysses. I thought: why not try to write, in my turn, the novel of an entire city, Malaga, by making all its voices and languages ​​heard? »tells the “World of Books” the novelist, who still lives in the Andalusian city, where he was born in 1956.

The anthill metaphor

The process of interweaving simultaneous narratives interests him: he has already experienced it in the last pages of dead dancers (Albin Michel, 2001), which earned him the prestigious Herralde Prize. He feels ready to apply it to an entire novel. “From there, I started thinking about characters”, he says. One of them, the one that opens the novel, was suggested to her directly by one of her doctor friends. “She told me that one day they had brought to the emergency room of the hospital where she worked a dying man, found on a vacant lot, his body devoured by ants. Her colleague immediately thought it was her husband, who had been missing for several days, and who was leading a homosexual double life. In fact, it was him. »

Spinning the metaphor of the anthill – the society that devours man, but also this model of social organization – Antonio Soler deploys a string of characters who will coexist, cross paths, and sometimes interact: among the most recurrent, we find a young and violent sex maniac, an unfaithful entrepreneur his wife has just left, a doctor, the leader of a gang of delinquents… That is, in total, some two hundred figures that the novelist summons in turn “like a conductor, taking care not to forget anyone”. To compose this symphony, he abandoned the plan he had originally planned and let his imagination run free, performing a “continuous work of memorization”, playing his writing score for ten months, without stopping or almost, in order to keep the same tone, “like a musical phrase”.

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“South”, by Antonio Soler: In Malaga, in the footsteps of James Joyce