Marks of Identity seems to be Goytisolo’s most highly admired novel, but frankly I was a bit disappointed by it – I think, because it is not entirely mad like The Virtues of the Solitary Bird. In fact, aside from the first few pages, which Goytisolo was no doubt intending to ward off anyone who might casually have picked the book up in a bookshop, it could be described as more or less normal. Fine, it jumps around a lot in time and place, and switches between one story and another (all the kind of “tricks” of discontinuity I don’t like, in fact), but really it is a simple, coherent story about a rich boy living through the Spanish Civil War and the early years of Franco’s regime, who rebels against his upbringing, against Franco’s Spain, and then against Spain itself (he’s particularly not impressed by its tourist trade), eventually determining to erase all such marks of identity.
As such it fits into that popular Spain-language genre, the novel of exile; and is a worthy enough contender. I can’t think of another offhand which is better. There’s some particularly good writing at times – what I’m inclined to see as its more Faulknerian moments; but there’s a lot of pretty dull passages too (all that police surveillance stuff, for instance).
Still, I shall continue on with the trilogy. Count Julian next, which I’m hoping will be more unhinged.