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No World Concertoby A. G. Porta
Antoni García Porta is a Spanish novelist with some half dozen novels to his name. The No World Concerto is the first of his works to be translated into English (and hopefully not the last). He is best known to English-speaking readers (if, in fact, he is known to them at all) as Roberto Bolaño's early writing partner and longtime friend. In 1984, they published an as-yet untranslated short novel they coauthored together, Consejos de un discípulo de Morrison a un fanático de Joyce (Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic). Despite winning a literary award for their work, Porta did not publish another book for well over a decade following, while Bolaño set about writing in earnest. Bolaño claimed that Porta spent these intervening years reading and rereading James Joyce: "He'd read everything by Joyce and in fact his subsequent long silence is in some way a product of his reading. I remember that for many years he wrote or collected random sentences from Ulysses with which he assembled poems that he called readymades, à la Duchamp. Some were very good."
The No World Concerto, like many of its unnamed (never named) characters, is an enigmatic, chimerical work of fiction. Portentous, suspicious, obsessive, prurient, and paranoid, Porta's story is undoubtedly a singular effort. Set in modern-day Paris (but referred to only ever as "the neighboring country's capital"), The No World Concerto follows the fates of an aging screenwriter as, with savings dwindling and deadlines looming, he feverishly strives to compose a script. The subject of his screenplay is also his young, precocious, and talented lover — a gifted pianist who'd rather spend her time aspiring to novel writing than practicing or performing concerts. Estranged from his wife (or worse), the screenwriter's efforts become ever more frenzied and desperate as the object of his amorosity finds herself entangled in something she strives to understand as best she's able.
Imbued with veiled philosophical, musical, and literary references, Porta's novel has a rhythmic, almost undulating quality to it — filled as it is with recurring imagery and repetitive phrasings. Also infused with a Joycean nod, The No World Concerto even features a character named Dedalus. Within the novel, consistent with Porta's decision to forgo names almost entirely, Joyce is referred to, often, as "the writer who revolutionized twentieth-century literature," Proust as "a novelist and cartographer of memory who turned jealousy into an aesthetic of stolen time," Cervantes as "a novelist who lacked the use of one arm," Shakespeare as "the dramatist who set the literary standard for everyone," and Wittgenstein simply as "W." Even secondary characters and settings get similar treatment: "the brilliant composer," "the young conductor," "the hotel with the English name," etc. Never do these literary choices, however, come across as banal or affected; instead they seem a way for Porta to enhance the shroud-like quality, mystery, and ambiguity of his narration.
Leitmotifs abound throughout The No World Concerto, be they phrasings, themes, or imagery. Secondary or ancillary characters and ideas enrich the tale greatly, and any reader is likely to be as intrigued by the notion of aliens, extraterrestrial communication, the "no world," an AWOL soccer star, a captured terrorist, dodecaphony (and Schoenberg), and hypnotism, as they are by the main plot involving the screenwriter and the girl. A sensual, sinister quality pervades so much of the text, that it makes for both a constant foreboding and a charged sexuality that combine for a most erotic effect.
What is perhaps most alluring about The No World Concerto (and there is much to be seduced by) is the seemingly effortless ways in which Porta is able to maneuver between realities. The reader is never quite certain whether what he or she is reading is part of the story itself, an authorial aside, a portion of the screenwriter's script, or an excerpt from the girl's novel-in-progress. Characters transcend each of these worlds, almost as if they are living within parallel universes that may or may not correspond to the "real" one. Free from pretension, The No World Concerto is almost anti-metafiction, so easily does Porta offer his nuanced tale. With direct, often staccato prose, Porta's novel is never arduous or even all that heady. Its challenge (if it even has one) lies in confronting a work of such originality and creativity. Interpersonal games, relationships, age, success, stories, sex, and even violence are all considered within. A. G. Porta's The No World Concerto may well be unlike any other contemporary novel, but the reticence to offer that pronouncement is solely on account of how fluently Porta convinces us of his tale — and, by extension, the prodigiousness of his literary gifts.
Synopses & Reviews
Hailed by Spain’s Revista Quimera as one of the top ten Spanish-language novels of the decade, alongside Bolaño’s 2666, Vila-Matas’s Bartleby & Co., and Marías’s Your Face Tomorrow, the many layers of The No World Concerto center around an old screenwriter, holed up in a shabby hotel in order to write a screenplay about his lover, a young piano prodigy who wants in turn to give up music and become a writer, and believes she may be in contact with creatures from another dimension. Shifting effortlessly between realities, The No World Concerto is a delightful and prismatic novel, and the first of A. G. Porta’s books to appear in English, finally joining those of his early writing partner Roberto Bolaño.
"Porta, a one-time collaborator with Roberto Bolaño (on Tips from a Disciple of Morrison to a Fan of Joyce), dexterously plays with a concept now well-known to both literature and film: the storyteller who blurs the horizon between objective reality and creative endeavor. A man identified only as 'the screenwriter' sets to work in a Parisian flophouse, giving various indications that the sexually self-exploitive girl who visits him and the pianist of his screenplay are not merely muse and character but a single entity. From the nexus of this enigmatic girl, all elements of environment, history, and society become swept into a sort of literary limbo. Appropriate to the concentration on cinema, repetition of barely-altered observations gives the text the feel of a cerebral art-house film. Similarly, the stream-of-consciousness style befits the screenwriter's organic story-drafting methodology. Porta builds curiosity in an unorthodox manner, presenting globules of subjectivism within the structure of the girl's own reality-blurring writing, and some passages even break the fourth wall. While the novel doubtless strikes a form appropriate to the philosophy sprinkled throughout, its reception will hinge upon a given reader's tolerance for unceasing disorientation and the characters' looping mantra that life is a game. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"One the most interesting and complex narrative projects of the last few years." Revista Quimera
"A. G. Porta is a first-class narrator." El Mundo
"The reference points for this original and ambitious novel are Cervantes, Proust, Kafka, Joyce, and Wittgenstein." La Vanguardia
A prismatic and erotic novel of the intersection of multiple worlds, this is the first novel by Roberto Bolaño’s early writing partner A. G. Porta to be translated into English.
About the Author
A. G. Porta was born in Barcelona in 1954. He gained prominence in the Spanish literary world when he won the Ámbito Literario de Narrativa Prize in 1984 for a novel written with Roberto Bolaño. After a silence of over ten years — which Bolaño claimed that Porta spent reading and rereading Joyce — he began publishing novels to widespread critical acclaim.
Darren Koolman was born in 1982 on the island of Aruba, in the Netherlands Antilles. He is a poet and literary translator from Spanish, French, and Dutch. He has an M.Phil in creative writing from Trinity College Dublin.
Rhett McNeil has translated work by Machado de Assis, António Lobo Antunes, and Gonçalo M. Tavares.
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