A Meditation (Magill's Literary Annual 1983)
In a series of novels begun in 1967 with the publication of Volverás a Región and continued in Una meditacion (1970; A Meditation, 1982), Un viaje de invierno (1972), and La otra casa de Mazón (1973), Juan Benet has created the chronicle of a mythical area of Spain to which he has given the name Región. Critics have frequently compared Benet to William Faulkner, not only for his invention of a fictional place as the locale of his several novels, but also for his dazzling stylistic innovation and linguistic complexity.
Critics have also noted the similarity between Región and the Macondo of Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970). In A Meditation, as in García Márquez’s novel, there is an indefinable narrative attitude that seeks a mythic base to the collective identity of a people—the Spaniards of Benet’s novel and the Colombians of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Stylistically, however, the two works are as different as one could possibly imagine, and to that difference is attributable the extraordinary popular success of García Márquez and the very limited appeal of Benet. Because it is a mythic interpretation of the origins of the present generation of the Colombian urban middle class, One Hundred Years of Solitude has an enormous appeal to the general reading public in Latin America as a kind of cultural history. A Meditation is also a search for the mythic origins of the present generation in Spain. It does not, however, have the accessibility of its Colombian counterpart because of its esoteric, convoluted style. Although Benet’s novel attracted the attention of the literary establishment and received the prestigious Biblioteca Breve literary prize, it will only appeal to the serious, dedicated reader of fiction. It is one of those rare works that contribute to the evolution of the novel as an art form, but it is a book that will be read by very few.
In A Meditation, Benet creates an experience of the Spanish society that is the heir to the trauma of the Civil War of 1936 to 1939. The unnamed narrator is an exile who returns home to attend a memorial service for Jorge Ruan, a young poet and son of the family that has always been the rival of the narrator’s family in the struggle for dominance in Región. The narrator’s return becomes a pretext for reconstructing through memory the intricate relationship between the two families.
The similarity of this basic premise of the novel to that of Juan Goytisolo’s Señas de identidad (1966; Marks of Identity, 1969) is striking. The theme is the same but the techniques are quite different. Marks of Identity is a novel of transition, still in the tradition of realistic narrative, although there is a tendency toward the innovation of the later novels of Goytisolo’s exile trilogy—Reivindicacion del Conde Don Julián (1970; Count Julian, 1974) and Juan sin tierra (1975; Juan the Landless, 1977). When Goytisolo becomes more experimental, he tends to create a fantasized representation of reality which becomes an extensive metaphorical expression of his reaction to the Spanish experience. Benet creates a world much more in accord with the historical reality that his narrative reflects. The narrator of A Meditation tells a story that, for the most part, is plausible, however convoluted and fragmentary.
In Benet’s novel, the reconstruction of the past takes the form of a meditation, in which the narrator allows each memory to conjure up other recollections, which lead in turn to philosophical observations on the meaning of the recollected experiences, which return him to other remembrances of other events and other characters. As the reader slowly and gradually accumulates details about the complex relationships of the characters, much of the mystery of this enigmatic reality is clarified, yet there is also much that remains confused and...
(The entire section is 1669 words.)
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Cabrera, Vicente. Juan Benet, 1983.
Choice. XX, September, 1982, p. 90.
Christian Science Monitor. XCIX, July 9, 1982, p. 14.
Compitello, Malcolm. Ordering the Evidence: Volveras a Region and Civil War Fiction, 1983.
Library Journal. CVII, May 1, 1982, p. 902.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 24, 1982, p. 7.
Herzberger, David K. “The Emergence of Juan Benet: A New Alternative for the Spanish Novel,” in American Hispanist. I, no. 3 (1975), pp. 6-12.
Herzberger, David K. The Novelistic World of Juan Benet, 1976.
Mantiega, Robert C., David K. Herzberger, and Malcolm Alan Compitello, eds. Critical Approaches to the Writings of Juan Benet, 1984.
The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, May 23, 1982, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXI, March 19, 1982, p. 55.