Seeing the Core of the Earth

I keep thinking why Rafael Chirbes’s diaries are hitting me so hard. The author didn’t lead an interesting life. There were no adventures, wars, life-changing love stories, profound friendships, or exotic travel locations. Or maybe there were but they aren’t mentioned in the diaries. Chirbes lived alone, in an isolated cottage. Never had children. Never lived with a romantic partner. All he did was read books, write, read some more, go to Germany or France for a book reading, read, then write.

Chirbes did have a job. Most writers do, even the really brilliant and widely recognized. He was a restaurant critic, which is an interesting job but it’s barely mentioned in the diaries.

He experienced no personal growth and acquired no insight. (Or maybe he did but this never made it into the diaries). The writing is extremely simple, which is very different from how Chirbes wrote his very postmodern, extremely complex novels.

So there’s no plot, no characters, no story, no linguistic experimentation, no insight, and no personal philosophy. And in spite of all that, this is going to be one of the most important, life-altering books I have ever read. Ever. In my whole life. Can you imagine how many books I’ve read in my whole life? This one is going to make the top three.

And here’s why. Chirbes shows how literature is made and what it is at the most basic level. He strips it completely bare and shows us how it’s done, what it’s made of. And then it hits you: wow, so it’s not about the plot, the characters, or the bon mots. There’s something down below. The real essence of literature. It’s an experience akin to glancing into the middle of the Earth’s core. We’ve all seen it in textbooks but the actual core has never been observed directly. Scientists kind of know what it’s like (it’s still debated, though) but nobody has seen it.

You spend your whole life reading, and everything becomes kind of predictable. But then a writer appears who shows you the core of the Earth. This is what this book did for me.

12 thoughts on “Seeing the Core of the Earth

  1. This sounds intriguing, especially it is so mysterious to me what you might mean by that.
    Which of his novels would you recommend for an introduction to this author? I see there are 7 books which have been translated to German.


  2. Dear Clarissa, thank you for your post, a gleaming nugget of profound insight and unexpected beauty. It is why I keep returning to your blog. And also because your readers’ comments are witty, sane and urbane.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s very new, so not yet but I think it might get translated. It was listed the #1 book in Spain in 2021, and it was only published in November. So there’s hope! If it gets translated, I’ll publish an announcement.


  3. // it’s not about the plot, the characters, or the bon mots. There’s something down below. The real essence of literature.

    What is it then? May you express it? The topic is very interesting, yet, unfortunately, evades my understanding.


    1. Oh, I’d think I was full of crap, too, before reading the book. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. He takes every trick authors use to create literature and demonstrates how it’s done. He says several times, for example, that it’s not possible to create a completely new kind of novel. And then he creates it in front of your eyes. It’s as if a painter created a painting in front of you and you get to see how shadow is created, and color, and light.


      1. “as if a painter created a painting in front of you ”

        Is that a bit like The French Lieutenenant’s Woman by John Fowles? Though there the author is a bit… obvious about playing around with the format of a Victorian novel…

        Or is it a novel version of the Joy of Painting* (old show on PBS – each episode the host talks through the process of painting a different landscape as he paints)

        Here’s a Winter Night:

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s exactly like the Fowles novel but understated, elegant, and done in many different ways. And in Chirbes it’s not ideological. He’s not trying to make a political point.


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