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Antonio Muñoz Molina and Proust

August 27, 2008 |  5:45 pm


Tim Rutten reviews Alfred Muñoz Molina's "A Manuscript of Ashes," a book that was first published in Spain in 1986 and has only now debuted, in translation, in the U.S. This version is "by turns elegiac, incantatory and deeply sensual," Rutten says. It is also a story within a story, a layered fiction of detection and discovery.

The layering of worlds through words is something Muñoz Molina had on his mind when he spoke at the PEN World Voices festival in 2005. He tells of riding the subway and seeing a woman reading Proust:

At the moment the woman opened the book [by Proust] and plunged into her reading, some sort of cosmic yet invisible shift took place. She is no longer on the train on this workday morning. She has fled, at least partially, to a different country. She is surrounded not by solemn, sleepy New York subway riders, but perhaps by the haughty guests at an elegant Parisian dinner. She is living in this present moment, between 8:50 and 8:55 A.M., and at the same time in the half-imagined, half-remembered evening Marcel Proust wrote about, and also in the actual time during which Proust — asthmatic, insomniac — was writing, when day was undistinguishable from night because the thick curtains were always drawn. A dying man trying to put off the end so that he could finish the same novel this lady in front of me reads so effortlessly.

Muñoz Molina goes on to ask if writing can change anything. But here he's really already answered his question: It can reach through time and transport the mind. Which sometimes is change enough.

-- Carolyn Kellogg