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Ignacio Padilla: Si volviesen sus majestades [If Their Majesties Were to Return]
Ignacio Padilla is not well-known in the English-speaking world. One of his novels (but not this one) and some of his stories have been translated into English. It is easy to see why this novel has not been translated into English or any other language. Quite apart from the subject matter, which I shall come to, the language itself would be a nightmare for a translator. Firstly, he writes in a deliberately archaic Spanish (think Cervantes), using forms of Spanish no longer used (and, in some cases, never used). Secondly, he throws in a certain amount of Dog Latin. Thirdly, he uses quite a lot of invented words, which you can more or less guess what they mean from the context but which would have to be somewhat anglicised in translation.
You might think from the formal, old-fashioned language used that this novel is set in the past, however… Though we have the trappings of the past – castles, knights, barons and so on, absolutist monarchs, the hero being a seneschal – we also have TV, cinema (and Hollywood – It’s Wonderful Life is our narrator’s favourite film), surrealism, computers, Art Nouveau, the books of G K Chesterton and Jules Verne and even inflatable sex dolls. In short the, past and the present merge. It is set in an unnamed and fictitious country. The only clues to its location are, firstly, that our hero, the seneschal, has a dream of going to Kalifornia (sic) and, in particular, Hollywood, because of his love of the cinema – it is, he says, the happy nation of cinema, where all is pleasure and there is no suffering, where there is no gentleman without a lady, no story without a happy ending and, secondly, and they have a war with the Franks (sic) over cognac, which ends up with the country having its own version, falsignac.
The book is narrated by the seneschal and he starts by telling us that their majesties (i.e. the King and Queen of this country) have now been gone for three centuries. They flew off in a balloon and he has been awaiting their return ever since. He is writing his story but does not know who will read it, so he starts with the time when their majesties left. After they left, there was a student demonstration, with the students calling for the release of an imprisoned poet, Igoriano de Nihlsburgo (most of the characters have improbable names). He, as seneschal, is in charge but thinks it is best to do nothing as the students are not too dangerous but the Baron Lázros Van Köberitz feels stern action is called for. Our hero would simply like to leave and go to Kalifornia. Eventually he is worn down by the Baron and agrees that the Baron can send in his troops, which he does. An appalling massacre ensues and the seneschal is particularly touched when he walks out among the bodies afterwards and is assailed by a young woman who subsequently dies.
He takes to his bed and, when he awakes, he sees that there is no-one around. It turns out that he has been asleep for over three months. It seems that the jester dragged him through a secret passage to a safe place away from the castle. While he was asleep, the population attacked the castle, freed the poet and put the poet in charge. Vicious revenge took place, with most of the inhabitants of the castle brutally killed in various imaginative ways. They searched for the seneschal but, as he was asleep and well hidden, they did not find him and assumed he had escaped. Eventually, they both got tired of the massacre and horrified at what they had done and all left, leaving only the seneschal and jester. The seneschal, of course, wants to go to Kalifornia but the jester says that they have a responsibility to stay and await the return of their majesties, which they do. The seneschal writes up what has happened but the jester rejects his writing and says he should write his full story, which he does.
The second part of the book tells his own story. His father died when he was young and seems to have been made, Frankenstein-like, by our narrator’s grandfather. The father also left a map to a sort of grail. We later learn that his great-grandfather had been responsible for guarding a grail-like object but it had disappeared. He had vowed to find it and had had a colourful life looking for it, unsuccessfully. His descendants, including our narrator, will carry on this responsibility. Our narrator has two brothers, who are not interested in this task and who become soldiers. They are the apple of their mother’s eye and when they are killed, she dies, leaving a long note to our narrator (in Esperanto!), whom she is less fond of. Things get more complicated, as he sets off on his task to find the grail-like object, including a deal with the Devil, his suffering from what a doctor diagnoses as pre-Messianic disease and, eventually, his arrival at the castle, where the Queen takes to him and they have a love affair.
The third part of his tale describes his time at the castle, up to the departure of the King and Queen, including the ancient history of the country, which seems to have involved a massive computer which gave itself a virus and which the Author (the title of the computer designer/programmer) struggles to cope with before the world descends into chaos.
The whole story is highly imaginative, very original and totally chaotic. The past merges with the present. Don Quixote, Frankenstein, alchemy and the Arthurian legends meet Hollywood and the post-modern novel. It is very funny, impossible to see where it is going (and why) and peopled with a host of strange characters. Most important, it is a very enjoyable tale, leading the reader down all sorts of unknown paths. I cannot see it being translated into English but it would be wonderful if a resourceful publisher/translator were to take on the task.
First published by Nueva Imagen in 2006
No English translation