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Gonzalo Torrente Ballester: Fragmentos de Apocalipsis [Fragments of Apocalypse]

Another novel that has not been translated into English. This one is set in Villasanta de la Estrella, a thinly disguised Santiago de Compostela. According to a prophecy, found in an ancient manuscript, the town is shortly to be totally destroyed. The Scandinavian King Olaf, after being defeated by Bishop Sisnando at the Battle of Catoira, predicted that he would come back in a thousand years and destroy the town. The thousand years are soon to be up. But this is not a straightforward novel. It is written by the novelist in the form of a diary. In the introductory section, before the diary starts, he writes Nada de lo que escribo ni de lo que he escrito tiene que ver con la realidad… Si con ciertas palabras intento configurar imágenes de hombres, es por seguir la costumbre, pero que nadie lo tome en serio [Nothing of what I write or what I have written has anything to do with reality…If, with some words, I try to conjure up images of men, it is only because I am following custom and no-one should take it seriously.] Within the diary, there are sections called Narration that tell the story and then sections, written in italics, called prophecies, though the first one is entitled It is not a story. It is a prophecy. This is not a poem. It is stupidity., apparently written by another writer, Justo Samaniego. To make matters more complicated, the narrator tells us, in the first paragraph of the introduction, that he is like Alberto Caeiro, one of the pseudonyms of Fernando Pessoa and also like Abel Martín, one of the pseudonyms of Antonio Machado. In short, Torrente Ballester is using a whole range of metafictional devices.

There are three stories told. The standard diary is the difficulty the novelist has in writing the novel he is writing and we are reading. The part of the diary called Narration tells the story of a group of anarchists trying to save the world by travelling back through time (they want to prevent the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat, which will prevent the rise of Napoleon and the creation of the Napoleonic Code, the cause of all ills, in their view). The third part, entitled prophecies and written by another narrator and printed in italics, tells the story of the Olaf prophecy. Of course, all three stories leak into one another. All the stories are peopled with a wide range of both historical and imaginary characters (including El Supremo, clearly Franco, as this book was published two years after his death) and, as in his other books, Torrente Ballester plays around with language. The whole story is both immensely clever and very funny, as Torrente Ballester writes it with tongue in cheek. Indeed, it might be said that it is simply one huge joke the author is playing on us. How sad that it is not available to English speakers.

Publishing history

First published in 1977 by Destino
No English translation
Published in French as Fragments d’Apocalypse by Actes Sud in 1993
Translated by Claude Bleton
Published in Portuguese as Fragmentos de apocalipse by Caminho in 1991
Translated by António Gonçalves