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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Enormity of the Tragedy

Quim Monzó

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To purchase The Enormity of the Tragedy

Title: The Enormity of the Tragedy
Author: Quim Monzó
Genre: Novel
Written: 1989 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 222 pages
Original in: Catalan
Availability: The Enormity of the Tragedy - US
The Enormity of the Tragedy - UK
The Enormity of the Tragedy - Canada
L'ampleur de la tragédie - France
Das ganze Ausmaß der Tragödie - Deutschland
  • Catalan title: La magnitud de la tragèdia
  • Translated by Peter Bush

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Our Assessment:

A- : well written but very melancholy tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 1/10/1996 Ingeborg Harms
The Independent . 21/9/2007 Michael Eaude
TLS . 16/11/2007 Matthew Tree

  From the Reviews:
  • "Man könnte Das ganze Ausmaß der Tragödie als pseudodarwinistische Parabel lesen. Quim Monzós neuer Roman führt zwar nicht den Kampf der Arten, wohl aber den der Geschlechter vor. (...) Das ganze Ausmaß der Tragödie ist kein Märchen und keine Parabel, sondern eine Farce. Monzó hat als Comiczeichner begonnen, und dieses Genre verbirgt sich auch im Aufbau des Romans. (...) Quim Monzós Roman exponiert den Sieg der Bildmedien über die Sprache. Weil er die Worte mit Vorliebe demonstrativ verwendet, verbreitet seine Prosa das fahle Licht billiger Kaufhäuser und schlecht gemachter Fernsehspiele. Bei ihm verpaßt man alles, wenn man nicht sieht." - Ingeborg Harms, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Monzó revels in the absurd details of everyday life. His characters' conversations are lacerating and fast; their internal monologues include all the irrelevances and doubts that pop into the mind, often at the most serious moments. His technique is to follow these thoughts with such strict, yet surreal logic that his characters seem both completely normal and verging on dementia. With enormous skill he moves from the inconsequential to the profound. (...) In this bleak novel, people's cruelty to each other is their sole connection." - Michael Eaude, The Independent

  • "To read this novel is to enter a fictional universe created by an author trapped between aversion to and astonishment at the world in which he has found himself. His almost manic humour is underpinned by a frighteningly bleak vision of daily life. All this is conveyed in Monzo's lapidary Catalan, which is finely rendered by Peter Bush." - Matthew Tree, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Enormity of the Tragedy begins with Ramon-Maria, a widower and former publisher who now works as a trumpeter, at work seducing show-woman Maria-Eugènia, Monzó describing the tail-end of their dinner and their slow progression into bed together. The sad evening moves towards what seems like inevitable failure, as Maria-Eugènia can't get a rise out of Ramon-Maria, but suddenly everything appears to be in good working order again, and he doesn't have to let her down after all.
       As it turns out, everything isn't entirely in good working order. Yes, Ramon-Maria's penis gets into a fine erect state -- the problem is: it stays that way, without any letup. Soon enough even he finds that: "his indefatigable erection was becoming rather grotesque".
       To endow a central character with a permanent erection is a big risk for an author; there's obvious humour in priapism, but one would expect it also rather overshadows everything else. But Monzó handles this surprisingly well, in part by making Ramon-Maria's physical state only a small part of 'the enormity of the tragedy'. For one, it turns out to be a manifestation of a different physical ailment -- a death sentence, in fact, as Ramon-Maria soon learns (when he finally goes to seek medical advice) that he only has a few weeks to live. So far from some fantastic male fantasy, the erection becomes a very obvious constant reminder of his looming mortality. (One would also imagine it to be a very inconvenient one; among the few particularly unrealistic elements of the novel is that Monzó eventually has him urinating only once a day, and even aside from the unlikeliness of such self-control that whole complicated (and presumably messy) activity is rather glossed over.)
       Ramon-Maria's reaction to the death-sentence takes on different forms, but he can only get himself worked up over it some of the time:

     How horrible, so much depression ! All told, dying wasn't a particularly dramatic misfortune. He could even steal a march on fate. He could commit suicide and thus end all. But he felt too lethargic to get up, enormously lethargic.
       He doesn't have that much to live for. His house is filled with left-over copies of the books from his publishing days, a reminder of his failure in that business, whose best days were already two generations removed. His wife is dead, and he's saddled with a teenage step-daughter, Anna-Francesca, with whom he barely gets along. Indeed:
Ramon-Maria said he had no family; Anna-Francesca (he thought) wasn't family at all.
       They live together in the same house but can go weeks without speaking; their paths barely cross throughout the novel. Anna-Francesca has a deep-rooted hatred for her step-father, and spends much of her time plotting how to kill him (unaware, since he at no point bothers to fill her in on his situation, that all that is required is a bit more patience). The rest of her time she spends thinking about and toying with boys, fantasizing about love and worrying about sex.
       There is a lot of sex in The Enormity of the Tragedy, and much of it is fairly detailed, but this is far from an erotic (or romantic) book; sex here isn't just tinged in melancholy, it is soaked in it. In describing the characters' thoughts as they fumble and go through the motions it is constantly made clear how there is no communication between them: they are islands bumping into each either (or, as frequently, floating by each other), and on the occasions when they manage to achieve some sexual fulfillment it's at best a brief moment of release and distraction (such is, of course, 'the enormity of the tragedy' that Monzó means to convey).
       Typically, one of what could be called the highpoints -- Anna-Francesca relinquishes her viriginity -- is described in clinical detail, including:
Anna-Francesca's vagina began to contract at regular intervals, like her uterus. Her pituitary gland produced oxycontin. She had a spastic muscular contraction lasting three seconds. The muscles surrounding the vagina now contracted rhythmically every eight-tenths of a second. Her rectum and uterus also contracted, and these contractions freed up the blood held in the veins of the pelvis.
       Hot, no ?
       (Typically, too, consummation only goes so far: while she is pleased that she has an orgasm on this, her first go-round, her partner has to withdraw before he makes it all the way (since she's not on the pill), his ejaculate then spurting on her stomach, the sex-act thus not truly complete.)
       Ramon-Maria tries to make the best of knowing that his time is soon up, but even his grandest plans and ambitions feel foolish. What makes The Enormity of the Tragedy so successful is that Monzó takes these outlandish and dramatic premises and treats them so straightforwardly, without ever trying to make too much of them. He never seems to be trying too hard, his approach largely naturalistic, conveying the thoughts (and, more frequently, confusions) of the various protagonists. The details and lists, and the focus on the everyday -- where a permanent state of erection is, for the most part, soon little more than a physical annoyance -- work very well. And the occasional sly aside livens things up too, as in the suggestion that:
his intense consumption of energy had led to the loss, without exaggeration, of two diopters in the right eye and three in the left (and, with exaggeration, eight and twelve respectively).
       The Enormity of the Tragedy is a truly stylish novel, Monzó's command making for a surprisingly appealing read. It is also, despite many comic elements, terribly melancholy -- a mix Monzó also manages well.

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The Enormity of the Tragedy: Reviews: Quim Monzó: Other books by Quim Monzó under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Catalan author Quim Monzó was born in 1952.

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