“Terra Alta” by Javier Cercas: the intelligence of the black novel


by Javier Cercas

Translated from the Spanish by Aleksandar Grujičić and Karine Louesdon

Actes Sud, 310 p., € 22.50

It’s intense and unfathomable. It devours itself – gnawing throughout the reading before it haunts, arguably forever, when finished. A prodigious metaphysical, spiritual and poetic detective novel, highland offers Javier Cercas to transform mud into gold, like an alchemist so sure of his art that he doesn’t show it.

Melchor, little strikes son of peripatetician from the margins of Barcelona, ​​discovers in prison Wretched and, to avenge the assassination of his mother, intends to transform himself into Javert, once become a police officer thanks to his ardor in studies – but not without an entourage ready to turn against him at the mercy of the grimaces of fate.

Now in his thirties and the father of a little Cosette, this man, who can’t help but bump into women bangs incognito, has taken refuge in a police station in the territory of Terra Alta, in the south of Catalonia. This country saw the Republican forces give way to Franco’s insurgents in 1938, after a butchery: the Battle of the Ebro. But now an atrocious crime, committed against a couple of powerful nineties linked to Opus Dei, mobilizes Melchor and his rage to find the killers…

Both nervous and long-winded writing

Simenon sketched out atmospheres, landscapes, states of a society, psychological profiles. Cercas taps, drills, excavates, in a complete but complex way, in the double bottom of reality, using a writing that is both nervous and long-term: highland turns out to be the first volume of a trilogy, which could become tetralogy, even pentalogy …

Hence the slow lightening of the dark psyche of this policeman – Valjean taking himself for Javert -, who is matched only by the opacity of the enigmas to be solved, while the past rises to the surface of the present – and we Here we find the theme of all of Cercas’s work, dowsing the emanations of Francoism in a tangled Spain, where everything is venomously entangled: Soldiers of Salamis (2002) to Shadow Monarch (2017), through The Impostor (2014).

Shimmer genius

Virtuoso of intersigns (those black cars that make beloved women disappear), genius of shimmers worthy of an artist painter (the bay windows keep letting the light through as long as the investigation remains obscure but when everything is cleared up “The room is reduced to night light”), champion of the concordance of times (the recent Catalan separatist deviations appear to be“Pre-war”), Javier Cercas plays with an oppressive tension: “Here, nothing ever happens”repeat it The voice of the people of Terra Alta ; more “Here, sooner or later, everything is explained by the war”, blows the hero’s wife.

“The Battle of the Ebro only left wounds visible,” she continued, as though she wasn’t talking to Melchor but to herself. The trenches, the ruins, the hills strewn with shrapnel, all these things that tourists love so much. But these aren’t the real injuries. These are the ones that no one sees. The ones people keep secret. “

Thirst for razor-sharp justice

In the middle of “False bad guys real good guys” or amiable deceivers undeniably disgusting, against a backdrop of tyrannical memory invalidating forgiveness and with in the background a thirst for cutting justice to the point of incarnating the avenging vice, this novel juggles with twists and turns. And this, as a deal closes “Falsely resolved” – strongly the second volume, Independence, which has just been published in Spain!

→ MAINTENANCE. Javier Cercas: “The impostor is the mirror of who we are”

As popular as it is sophisticated, simultaneously legible and lush, both a reflection on the role of literature and a thrilling use of writing, highland inoculates this salutary morality in our infected times: “Hating someone is like swallowing a glass of poison and believing that’s how you’re going to kill the one you hate. “


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