Camilo José Cela had an inimitable way with language, a personal style that is instantly recognizable after minimal acquaintance, thanks to his characteristic handling of the estribillo (tag line), alliterative and rhythmic prose, parallelistic constructions, grotesque caricatures with moments of tenderness, unabashed lyricism with ever-present irony, and the incorporation of popular sayings or proverbs, vulgarities, and obscenities in the context of academically correct and proper passages. His art more closely approaches the painter’s than the dramatist’s, and it is far removed from the adventure novel.
With the exception perhaps of The Family of Pascual Duarte, Cela’s novels have little action and a preponderance of description and dialogue. As a painter with words, one of whose favorite subjects is language itself, unflaggingly aware of its trivializations and absurdities yet fascinated with nuances, examining and playing with words, Cela produced ironic conversations, incidents, and scenes that often could very well stand alone. This characteristic, usually one of his virtues as a writer, becomes at times a vice, for he tends to repeat himself and also to produce novels in which there is little if any character development and often no sustained or sequential action—no plot in the traditional sense. The reader whose interest in a piece of fiction is proportional to “what happens” may find Cela’s short stories more...
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