In the Wilderness

Manuel Rivas

translated from the Galician by Jonathan Dunne
Harvill Press 2003
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004
As a girl, Rosa is in the village church when a storm uncovers some frescoes of beautiful women — but the priest, Don Xil, explains that these are actually representations of the seven sins, not holy virgins. Later, wife to a husband she no longer loves, Rosa confides in Misia, the old lady of the manor, who in turns tells stories of her childhood. And Rosa's dumb brother Simon finds a steed, love and adventure.

Meanwhile Don Xil has been reincarnated as a mouse, as has the poacher Matacans, and they are gnawing their way through the remnants of the manor library — instead of poaching hares, Matacans eats chapter XXIX of The Liberal Ways of Hunting, "Hares and how to find them". Three hundred ravens are the warrior-poets of the last king of Galicia, and report back to him on the doings of the village. And half the inhabitants have been transmigrated, "most of them mice, but there were also toads, spiders, fleas, ants, cockroaches, bees, snails, slugs, moths and even a bat that manoeuvred recklessly from the beams in the ceiling".

In the village of Arán, Manuel Rivas has merged the fantastic and the mundane, magic and "Made in China". Arán is situated in the course of Spanish history, from the Civil War to modernisation and rural depopulation, but at the same time in the world of Galician folk tales and medieval romance. At first the structure of In the Wilderness is a little disorienting, with the forty five chapters almost short stories in their own right — or perhaps, with their vivid imagery and evocative language, poems. The result is a swirling, kaleidoscopic work, but one that works as a novel, held together by its central characters.

January 2004

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%T In the Wilderness
%A Rivas, Manuel
%M Galician
%F Dunne, Jonathan
%I Harvill Press
%D 2003 [1994]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1843430142
%P 170pp