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Julián Ríos: Larva (Larva)

If you liked Finnegans Wake, you might appreciate this novel. Forget plot, though there is a sort of plot, involving a Don Juan-like character looking for his lady at a masquerade in an old house in London. And, instead of Dublin, it is London, the city-as-character and not the London of the tourist but Shepherd’s Bush and Hammersmith and Queen’s Park (replete with photos if you want to know what they look like). But what sets Ríos’ novel apart is the incredible linguistic invention, for he tells his story in one page segments, with footnotes on the facing page and each page is a panoply of linguistic invention, puns, word games, literary allusions and so on, in numerous languages. (In the Spanish version, as well as Spanish, I spotted English, French, German, Italian, Galician, Catalan, Russian, Swahili, Swedish and Latin and I probably missed several). Each word or phrase leads onto another one – in the same language or another one, clearly pointing to the Joycean idea that every word or phrase conceals several other meanings or, as Humpty Dumpty aptly put it when I use a word, it means what I want it to mean. There is no point in trying to explain. You will have to experience the sheer brilliance of this novel by reading it. It won’t be easy. At times – as with Finnegans Wake – it will be frustrating but the intellectual reward will be great if you persist.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish 1983 by Del Mall
First published in English 1991 by Quartet
Translated by Richard Alan Francis & Suzanne Jill Levine