Juan the Landless, by Juan Goytisolo

I didn’t finished Juan the Landless. I got about two-thirds of the way through, but found it by that time such a chore to read, that I found that – like say with Joyce’s Ulysses or Kafka’s The Trial – the only reason I could give to continue to the end would be at least to say I had read it.

Goytisolo died this year, and in one of the obituaries I read, it was remarked that his body of work demonstrated an astonishing variety. Now it is true, the author of this piece had read a lot more of his earlier work than I; I have only read in this respect his Marks of Identity, which is his emergence from this period (I’m not sure much else pre-Marks of Identity is published in English); but on the contrary, my experience of Goytisolo – in particular contrast to Vallé-Inclán, for instance – is that he’s one of those writers all of whose books are exactly the same; and not merely that, my experience of reading them too is exactly the same. For I always start out swiftly reading the first 50-70 pages, thinking it all marvellous; and then I put the book aside, and when I pick it up again, I’ve lost the thread, and the whole thing becomes just the most terrible struggle.

Juan the Landless is the third in a loose trilogy which starts with Marks of Identity, and seems to presage Goytisolo’s entire later style where he just rants about vaguely connected stuff to the reader and calls that a novel. There’s usually a character and a plot in there somewhere, but they’re often difficult to locate or understand. These rants tend to consist of a denunciation of Spain, capitalism and western society in general, and an embracing of Islam and homosexuality (two things which in Goytisolo’s mind seem to go together). Sometimes this ranting, and the mad ideas accompanying it, is enjoyable: I liked the piece in this book, for instance, where tourists come to Spain not to watch bull-fights but heretics being burnt. But after a bit it, I find, it all gets too much.

I also read earlier in the year Landscapes After The Battle, about a quartier of Paris which is in the process of becoming an Islamic state, for which the above description of Juan the Landless would also suffice.


One thought on “Juan the Landless, by Juan Goytisolo

  1. “I liked the piece in this book, for instance, where tourists come to Spain not to watch bull-fights but heretics being burnt. But after a bit it, I find, it all gets too much.”

    Absolutely historically true; in the 1600s and 1700s European travellers came to Spain and Portugal like anthropologists to a primitive tribe to take notes on the behavior of savages. Spain was considered a backward, superstitious den of ignorance, a place physically in Europe but mentally elsewhere. This created a way of thinking about Spain – the infamous “Leyenda Negra” – that historians are still trying to expunge.

    The high point was watching the savages burning people in autos-de-fé, a practice nowhere else in use in Europe at the time. Protestant travellers laughed at the fanatics who burned heretics, which got them in trouble with local authorities because you’re not supposed to laught at fanatics doing the burning; you’re supposed to laugh at the poor bastards being burnt.

    But how can you not finish “The Trial”? It’s a short gripping novel!

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