A Literary Surprise

Rafael Chirbes died in 2015. I believe that he’s the best Spanish writer of the twenty-first century so far, so this was a heavy loss. I remember exactly where I was when I found that he died, and it still makes me cry.

Chirbes died at the cusp of his artistic career. A lifelong four-packs-a-day smoker and a heavy drinker who started suffering from a host of severe illnesses by the age of 35, it’s a wonder he lived as long as he did.

And then a few months ago, it turned out that 3 of Chirbes’s best books were never published. He was preparing them for publication when he died. The books are his diaries that he wrote for several decades.

The first volume came out last year. It contains the diaries covering the 1980s, 1990s, and up to 2005. The publication of the diaries was the literary sensation of 2021 in Spain. Of course, it isn’t just the descriptions of a writer’s inner life that people are lining up to buy. There are many very graphic descriptions of gay sex. (At this point, several people stopped reading this post and beelined it to Amazon to buy the book). And since Chirbes was a voracious reader, he read all of the bestsellers and wrote down honest (and often very cruel) opinions about them. So now everybody can gossip about what Chirbes said about this or that famous writer.

None of these things are what makes the book great, though. It’s the extremely fresh format Chirbes came up with that makes Diarios 1-2 irresistible. The diaries are like an autobiography without the one thing that makes autobiographies suck, which is an organizing idea. Usually, an author tries to make the story of his life coherent by finding (or inventing) one common thread and arranging events on it like beads on a necklace. Everything progresses towards a single, very obvious goal, and that’s very boring.

But Chirbes’s Diarios 1-2 have none of that. Things just happen, life occurs, and it’s messy, painful, ugly, beautiful, confusing, everything. There’s obviously an enormous amount of work behind the seeming effortlessness of the diaries. And a shit ton of editing.

There are two more volumes still to be published. They should cover the time when Chirbes finally became really famous. I don’t know how to explain what it feels like to discover that he keeps publishing new books years after his death. Imagine you are a Shakespearean scholar, and suddenly three new plays are uncovered – and they are his best.

OK, I’ll stop ranting for the moment. But it will be a short moment.

2 thoughts on “A Literary Surprise

    1. It’s so cool because from what I read so far, he hates the same authors I do! It’s great not to feel alone in my hatred for Eduardo Mendoza, for instance.


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