Book Notes: Javier Cercas’ Monarch of the Shadows

It seems like everybody who has a distant relative killed in the Spanish Civil War is busy digging him out – metaphorically and sometimes literally – and writing a novel about him. Cercas is a known opportunist, so how could he miss a chance to cash in on an uncle who’d died in the war at the age of 19?

The novel about the dead uncle ended up boring as dust, of course. Is there anybody who can’t find an ancestor killed in some war? Maybe even a more interesting than this one? Men – and some especially dumb women – die in wars, it’s nothing new. You can’t milk the subject in perpetuity because it’s not that special.

So Cercas found a way to spice up the novel. He has a friend, a well-known film director, whose wife dumped him for Viggo Mortensen. The wife has made every effort to keep her relationship with the star private. In the 5 years she’s lived with Mortensen, she maybe appeared in public 2 or 3 times with him. The public is understandably desperate for dirt on the whole thing. 

In the novel, Cercas inserts a few juicy bits of gossip about the film director, the wife (who’s a fairly known actress in Spain), and Mortensen. I wonder how the director reacted to Cercas spilling his private drama all over the dang novel. He seems to be spineless enough to just swallow it in silence. The wife must be livid, though. 

Of course, every review of the novel quoted the gossip and mentioned nothing else about it. Because there is nothing else. I don’t watch movies so I don’t give a crap about the gossip but the novel itself is just not good. The genre of the Spanish Civil War seems to have fizzled out.


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