Miguel Sánchez-Ostiz: La flecha del miedo [The Arrow of Fear]
This is the final novel in a series that began with Las pirañas. Like that and other of his novels, it is set in the fictitious town of Umbría, based on Sánchez-Ostiz’ home town of Pamplona. He apparently started writing it in 1990 and it took eight years to write. When he started the book, he was, in his own words, in a foul and critical mood but his humour improved over the eight years. The hero is Juan Fernández Lurgabe, a ventriloquist. At the start of the novel he has returned to Umbría, after a long and not very successful absence. He puts an ad in the paper, offering his services as a ventriloquist but receives few responses. Much of the novel is both his delving into his own, often unpleasant memories, and into the life of the city of Umbría, which he seems to hold in much contempt. Though we do get a lot of commentary from Juan Fernández, Sánchez-Ostiz cleverly uses not only Juan Fernández’ friends and family as interlocutors but, more particularly, his ventriloquist dummies, namely Robin Hood, Wendy and Dr. Mabuse. Dr. Mabuse is, of course, the dark side, with Robin Hood being the heroic side and Wendy the nagging conscience. Other such characters appear, such as Corto Maltese and Pinocchio.
Juan Fernández has not had a particularly good or successful life. He has been in and out of institutions. He has drifted around in various jobs. He had hoped to leave Umbría and come back a success. This did not happen. And now he is faced with his past and living in a city he is not sure he still knows – it has its dark secrets, he points out on more than one occasion. His life in this city is, in many respects, a dark journey to hell, a hell that few others can see, except for his faithful (but critical) dummies and a few friends such as Gus and Estanis. He has little time for most of the inhabitants, criticising the politicians (of course), the property developers, the rich, the Christians, the atheists, ETA, lawyers, the police, the right-wing, the left-wing. Indeed, anyone is fair game for his criticism or, rather his often vicious attacks, whatever side of the fence they sit on, though it is those in power and those with the money that come in for most of his attacks. All of his actions take place against the political background of the day – the attempted right-wing coup in Spain, the activities of ETA, the Montejurra Incidents and others.
Sánchez-Ostiz’ use of language is superb, with colourful expressions, a never-ending attack of language, stream of invective and vivid and often dark descriptions. Juan Fernández is in his own personal hell and has to struggle to get out but he is going to do so by stepping over his enemies. You cannot help but be impressed by his writing though you can see why an English-language publisher/translator might well have shied away from it, even if you wonder why no British, USA, Australian or other Anglophone writer has not tried this. Samuel Beckett may be the closest but his writing was far more austere than Sánchez-Ostiz’. Sadly, unless you read Spanish, you will probably never get to read this book – as far as I can determine he has not been translated into any other language – but, if you do, you should read this book.
First published in Spanish 2000 by Anagrama
No English translation