A Gargantuan Pulp Sphinx

Ben Hooyman

Los Angeles Review of Books


“THE RECENT publication of The Garden of Seven Twilights marks a real literary event: English-speaking audiences finally have the chance to experience one of contemporary Catalan literature’s most distinctive writers, Miquel de Palol”

“upon its publication in 1989, Garden of Seven Twilights was hailed as a masterpiece and showered with accolades—the Serra d’Or Critics prize, the National Prize for Catalan Literature, and many others”

“Critics blessed Palol with comparisons to Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Georges Perec, dubbing his work “the postmodern Decameron.””

Garden especially earns this last epithet—it is a frame-narrative monolith, a monstrously pregnant matryoshka doll of nested stories, and a cerebral, ludic, and unapologetically pulpy affair”

Garden of Seven Twilights unfolds in the aftermath of a nuclear strike on Barcelona in the mid-2020s, marking the beginning of World War III and a series of nuclear conflicts in the 21st and 22nd centuries that come to be known as “the Four Wars of Entertainment.””

Garden of Seven Twilights will garner comparisons to the classic frame-narrative Wunderkammern—not only the aforementioned Decameron and One Thousand and One Nights, but also the voluminous ancient Indian Jātakas and Panchatantra, Jan Potocki’s obstruse Manuscript Found in Saragossa, and the carnivalesque and transgressive Canterbury Tales and 120 Days of Sodom

“Palol also does away with the classics’ tendency to retain a significant degree of independence between individual tales. Garden of Seven Twilights is a grand unified conspiracy: it’s all interconnected, everything needs to be read together, and a moment of inattention might cause unfortunate readers to overlook a clue that would help them puzzle out its codified mysterium”

Garden of Seven Twilights includes a notation system to keep readers attuned to their relative location within the story-levels. When someone in the narrative frame begins to tell a story, there’s a useful note [1>2] in the margin to indicate the corresponding shift in the story-layer. When a character within that story begins to tell a story, you’ll see a [2>3] and so on”

“For simple up- and downshifts, the notation is straightforward and utilitarian, but it becomes a godsend when Palol flexes the experimental potential of his system. For example, midway through the novel one finds this approximate sequence in the span of a few pages: Camila, a character in the frame narrative, expresses confusion about something she’s heard about a Silvia in the seventh-level narrative [7>1], so the narrator, Kolinski, waits for others to offer their conjectures and picks up where he left off [1>7]. But then Rogelio, the narrator of the third story-layer, runs out of champagne and disrupts the whole chain by going to bed [7>3], waiting until the next morning to resume his story about one Victoria [3>7], who is eager to describe a scene from her childhood [7>8] in which she spends a day with her grandfather, who tells her a story of three friends [8>9] who stumble upon a book called The Garden of the Seven Twilights

“Imagine, reader, that all those half-read books concocted a conspiracy against you, and that they demanded to be understood all at once, together, or not at all”

“And, to further test your memory and meddle, they generated all kinds of joint symbols and synchronicities, and allowed characters to migrate between books, giving these intertextual pilgrims new names and convincing disguises, casting judgment on you if you do not manage see through their ruse”

“With the comprehensiveness of an encyclopedic novel, Palol tacitly asserts that nearly all fundamental dimensions of human life have a fallible narrative basis—history, politics, religion, mythology, memory, even one’s own experience. In fact, Garden of Seven Twilights implicitly challenges readers to find some aspect of human affairs that lies safely outside the domain of story”

“Palol appears to be drawn to the high-concept pulp of predecessors like Philip K. Dick. Garden of Seven Twilights is fascinated by the conspiratorial machinations of politics, finance, banking, and war; the moral stakes of near-future advances in technology; and a pessimism about the coming perils of a new millennium”

“Difficult as it is to imagine, Palol’s ardent readers have told me that beyond his first novel lies an untranslated trove of masterworks more honed and, somehow, more ambitious than this”

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