Book review: In the Night of Time

ANTONIO Muñoz Molina is one of Spain’s leading contemporary novelists. 

Book review: In the Night of Time

Antonio Muñoz Molina

Tuskar Rock Press, €25.50; ebook, €9.21

He is the recipient of that country’s Asturias Award and, internationally, of honours such as the Jerusalem Prize.

Yet his work remains largely unknown to Anglosphere readers, and In the Night of Time — the story of a doomed love affair set against the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War — is only the fourth of his 23 novels to be translated to English.

Weighing in at over 600 pages (a translation by Edith Grossman which is still 300 pages shorter than the Spanish original), In the Night of Time is perhaps not the ideal introduction to Molina’s work.

Though this vast book offers instances of beauty and understanding, moments which frequently challenge the reader as much as they do the characters, they are buried in endless irrelevant detail.

Molina’s material feels stretched as a consequence and, with his realist mode lacking, say, the cheeky encyclopaedic tendencies of the postmodernists, this burden of minutiae proves wearying and distracting.

Moreover, it serves to obfuscate what is otherwise a very straightforward story. Ignacio Abel is an architect of some renown in mid-1930s Madrid.

He has two children with the straightforward Adela but is increasingly unhappy in his marriage. When he meets a young American named Judith, he is smitten by the vivacity she embodies and the pair begin an affair.

On discovering this, Adela attempts suicide and Judith, horrified, returns to the US, leaving Abel to contemplate what he really wants from life.

Molina, too, seems to be contemplating what he really wants throughout In the Night of Time.

On the one hand this is a carefully judged portrayal of the causes and consequences of sexual infidelity; on the other it is a political novel attuned to the manner by which nationalism and sectarianism — eventually war — buffet the individual. Both are fine books but they knock against each other in incongruous fashion here and it genuinely hurts the reading experience.

That said, there is much fine writing on display even if the reader is left to hunt for it amid the “maniacal attention to detail”. Molina’s depiction of the hurt, quietly tormented Adela is among the novel’s strengths.

Long before her husband’s affair she was “widowed by motherhood” and by the glamour of Abel’s rich acrylates and patrons.

She cannot compare in his eyes to the New Yorker “drawn with an architect’s pencil” whose silhouette drifts across his lecture slides one night.

Such comparisons are cruel, but through them Molina imbues Adela’s suffering with meaning and validity.

These snatches of character are to be further prized for how they grant a reprieve from the repetitiveness evident elsewhere.

In that respect, In the Night of Time is a novel which one has to work at. Those seeking a taster of Molina’s talents might be better served by earlier, more focused works such as Sepharad or A Manuscript of Ashes.

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