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.