Thursday, June 26, 2008

G. Cabrera Infante

I’m a hundred pages shy of finishing G. (that’s short for Guillermo, yo) Cabrera Infante’s Tres Tristes Tigres or, if, like me, your Spanish isn’t good enough to facilitate a reading in the original language, Three Trapped Tigers (pub. Dalkey Archive, trans. Donald Gardner and Suzanne Jill Levine in collaboration with the author). It is quite an achievement. All the trappings (pardon the pun, but if you read enough Cabrera Infante you’ll find yourself making puns all the day long) of the modern novel are evident in this book: linguistic playfulness, illusions both high and low brow (more a postmodernist practice, really), and enough jokes, jabs, puns and provocations to satisfy your bitter, jaded tastes, you “post-literate” smarmy bastard.

Sorry, not sure where the anger is coming from at the moment. Maybe it is reading from a review of Three Trapped Tigers I stumbled across online that dismissed it as pranks and puns run amuck with no purpose (I paraphrase and wholeheartedly disagree). Sure, this is a book that will polarize. Some of the literary elite has ignored the point (to me, and I’m borrowing an idea from Suzanne Jill Levine, all the puns and deconstructions of language, not to mention the repetition of the Campbell’s story, are designed to communicate the fallibility of language) while others have sung the author’s praises, and I, of course, plant myself firmly in the second camp. Anyway, I rather like it when a work of art nets such divided reactions. Something interesting exists in that tension. It’s all about taste, right? Right. And mine is Mine and ought to be yours.

Back to reality:

There are those that would have you believe that this is the Cuban Ulysses, which makes sense in a sense. Clearly Cabrera Infante has read his Joyce, though I prefer the Cuban’s humor to the Irishman’s. If anything, Three Trapped Tigers makes me think I ought to go back and look at old James a little closer and see if perhaps I am in a better place to wade through his streams of conscious. Regardless of whether or not this is the Cuban Ulysses, it is certainly one of the best books I’ve read in a while. You might feel the same assuming you like fractured novels with a multiple narrators and no real linear plot, no real sense of traditional story telling (though, considering the now well-established practice of writing in this modernist and postmodernist style, the conventional novel has been broken enough times that there is no such thing as conventional story telling anymore, so please, let’s all stop referring to any goddamn book that doesn’t follow 19th century blueprints as “unconventional” as it is now officially a misnomer).

Thanks for listening.