The Tranquil Gaze of Benito Pérez Galdós

I consider Javier Cercas one of the best writers in the Spanish language, and I believe that, after oblivion has buried his contemporaries, at least three of his extraordinary books — Soldiers of Salamis, The Anatomy of a Moment, and The Imposter — will still have readers who turn to them to learn what our disordered present was like. He is also a man of courage. He loves his homeland of Catalonia, and his articles inveighing against the secessionist demagoguery of the Catalan separatists are persuasive and incontestable. In an urbane debate some time back with Antonio Muñoz Molina on the subject of the nineteenth-century Spanish novelist Benito Pérez Galdós, Cercas admitted that he didn’t care for the prose of the author of Fortunata and Jacinta. As my grandfather Pedro used to say, entre gustos y colores, no han escrito los autores, which roughly translated is the old adage that there is no accounting for taste. Everyone has a right to his opinion, and writers do too, but to make such a declaration on the centenary of Pérez Galdós’ death, when everyone else was lauding and commemorating him, was certainly a provocation.  I don’t care for Proust. For years this embarrassed me, and I kept it under wraps. Not anymore. I confess I read him lethargically; I struggled to get through his interminable novel and its long sentences, its author’s fussiness and frivolity. His small, selfish world repelled me, not to mention those cork-lined walls meant to buffer him from the distracting noise of the outside world, which I love so much. Had I been a reader for Gallimard when Proust submitted the manuscript of his first volume, I fear I would have advised against publication, as did André Gide. (He regretted this error for the rest of his life.)

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