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the Complete Review
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Quim Monzó

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To purchase Gasoline

Title: Gasoline
Author: Quim Monzó
Genre: Novel
Written: 1983 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 141 pages
Original in: Catalan
Availability: Gasoline - US
Gasoline - UK
Gasoline - Canada
Gazoline - France
  • Catalan title: Benzina
  • Translated by Mary Ann Newman

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Our Assessment:

B : stylish, odd artists' stories

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 5/7/2010 Adrian Turpin
Publishers Weekly . 26/4/2010 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "If Monzó’s surreal comedy risks being a one-joke wonder, happily he plays the variations with skill. Gasoline is a gleefully mischievous exploration of the limits of inspiration and the egotism that underlies all art." - Adrian Turpin, Financial Times

  • "Monzó delivers drollery on nearly every page, in observations that are incisive and hilarious and horrifying, often all at once." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Gasoline is a two-part novel, each section focused on a different Catalan artist who has come to New York. It begins with Heribert, the established star who has a big exhibition to prepare for -- and can't bring himself to create anything. He keeps telling himself that if he has to he can get it done, convincing himself:

He can do twenty paintings in three days, if he wants to. All he needs is a bit of will and courage.
       But he just can't bring himself to turn back to his art. Indeed, it can feel like:
he no longer feels any passion for Helena, nor for painting, nor perhaps for anything at all.
       From Heribert's painter's block the novel then switches to Humbert, out of whom creativity is overflowing. "There's so much to do !" he finds -- and his problem is that he isn't able to get to it all: "So many paintings I'll never get to ... Life is too short for all the work one could do", he notes in his notebook. He even goes so far as to wonder:
Why think ? Each second lost in thought is irretrievable.
       Humbert essentially usurps Heribert's place; as one critic writes, as a painter he takes up "where the extraordinary momentum of Heribert Juliá's appearance little more than a year ago left off." Where Heribert's career came to a crashing stop, Humbert is, indeed, all momentum.
       The contrast between Heribert, who can barely even be bothered to go through with anything at all, whether seducing a woman or trying to paint again, and Humbert, who is all eager ambition, is a clever one, and well done with all the overlap Monzó allows. A woman, Helena, also connects them, as Humbert recognized that she also played a role in Heribert establishing himself:
Helena Sorrenti seemed to hold the key to the situation. Not only did she run the gallery that had launched Juliá and established his dominance, she also seemed to be his wife.
       And so Humbert looks to curry similar favor with her.
       Gasoline is an amusingly off-beat novel of these artists' lives -- and the women they deal with. Monzó keeps both painters in a fog of misunderstanding (which is, to some extent, also of their own creation), their relationships largely oddly unsatisfying. Populated with characters whose names begin with H -- Hildegarda, Herundina, Hannah -- and with the protagonists involved in often simple, mundane activities that don't lead anywhere (or at least very far), Gasoline feels shrouded in an artistic-scene fog; there's also an artificiality to many of these characters as they seem to play out roles rather than live. For all of Humbert's ambitious and eager striving, he too is befogged by events; in a nice touch Monzó has him give: "her (Hildegarda) a kiss, with the uncomfortable feeling that he's done this before" -- as, indeed, Humbert here finds himself and his life stuck in a sort of repetitive loop.
       Much of the appeal of Gasoline is in Monzó's tone, and treatment of his artist-protagonists. The almost dry and sometimes even plodding style (especially when the artists are with women) nicely subverts most romantic ideals of artists' lives. The atmosphere Monzó wants to evoke is already dragged in at the onset, as the the book opens with Heribert dreaming "an exact reproduction of the scene in Nighthawks by Edward Hopper".
       The treatment of the art-scene does feel a bit heavy-handed and also dated (but then this is a book that was written in 1983 ...), but Monzó's primary concern is with his two protagonists' at these stages in their lives, and all in all the novel's peculiarity is quite appealing

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 April 2010

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Gasoline: 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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