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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Cremation

by
Rafael Chirbes


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Cremation



Title: Cremation
Author: Rafael Chirbes
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 386 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Cremation - US
Crematorio - US
Cremation - UK
Cremation - Canada
Crémation - France
Krematorium - Deutschland
L'equatore delle cose - Italia
Crematorio - España
directly from: New Directions
  • Spanish title: Crematorio
  • Translated by Valerie Miles

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Our Assessment:

A- : a strong novel of modern Spain and its rapid post-Franco changes

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural A+ 4/10/2007 Ángel Basanta
Le Figaro . 16/5/2009 Olivier Mony
Le Monde . 9/4/2009 Xavier Houssin
NZZ . 12/10/2008 Albrecht Buschmann
Süddeutsche Zeitung A 16/9/2008 Alex Rühle
Die Welt . 6/12/2008 Elmar Krekeler
Die Zeit A 19/12/2008 Fokke Joel


  Review Consensus:

  Captures this time and society exceptionally well

  From the Reviews:
  • "Crematorio es una novela excelente, la mejor de Chirbes y una de las mejores de la literatura española en lo que va de siglo. Es, además, una novela necesaria en este tiempo de levedad, frivolidades y desmemoria. (...) El perspectivismo enriquece la visión del conjunto, pues todo es analizado desde puntos de vista diferentes y aun opuestos. Aquí está el primer acierto del autor: dar una visión plural, nada simplista ni mani-quea, respetando la íntima verdad de sus criaturas. (...) He aquí una novela sazonada de pensamiento, de sabiduría literaria y de otras disciplinas, pesimista en su visión de la sociedad y las contradicciones del ser humano e incluso de la literatura y su dolorida gestación desde la autenticidad. Por ello Crematorio es de lectura imprescindible." - Ángel Basanta, El Cultural

  • "A 60 ans, ce romancier espagnol publie Crémation qui, comme son titre l'indique, est un des livres les plus sinistres de ces derniers mois, mais aussi l'un des plus beaux de ces dernières années. (...) Crémation est le dépôt de bilan d'une époque - la nôtre --, et d'un pays -- le sien." - Olivier Mony, Le Figaro

  • "Ici, c'est l'argent-roi, la frustration, le trouble, l'absence de partage, les illusions perdues. Le monde de Misent est celui de la spéculation poussée à son extrême, servie par la drogue, le sexe, la corruption. Ici, détruire l'environnement, c'est montrer son pouvoir. Quant à détruire les autres, c'est juste s'affirmer. Pourtant, qu'on ne cherche pas les affreux, les ordures. Ni les héros non plus. Le roman de Rafael Chirbes se lit comme un testament d'époque." - Xavier Houssin, Le Monde

  • "In fliessendem Rhythmus entwickelt sich nach und nach ein weit gespanntes Gesellschaftsbild, das zwar fragmentarisch bleibt, aber gleichwohl grosse Tiefenschärfe bekommt. (...) Chirbes umkreist seine Fragen und seine Figuren wie ein geduldiger Jäger, der nie abdrückt: weil der Schuss des Jägers eine zu simple Antwort wäre. So türmen und überlagern sich die Erzählerstimmen, bald wütende Suada, bald melancholische Nabelschau, und wer die Menschen wirklich sind, die hier nachdenken über Leben und Tod, über unsere Zeit und die Formbarkeit der Welt, dessen können wir nie sicher sein. Jeder Monolog liefert neue Facetten über den zuvor gehörten, und so bleibt es letztlich dem Leser überlassen, welchen Argumenten er den Vorzug gibt." - Albrecht Buschmann, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Und doch ist dieser Rubén eine der monströsesten Figuren der zeitgenössischen Literatur, ein Mensch, der regrediert ist auf die Grundfunktionen trinken, ficken, jagen, schlafen, ohne das als Verlust zu sehen, eine lebende Abrissbirne, die alles plattmacht, was sich ihr in den Weg stellt, dessen Pragmatismus grauer ist als der Beton seiner Rohbauten (.....) Die Technik des inneren Monologs hat Chirbes über die Jahre zu solcher Meisterschaft entwickelt, dass er mittlerweile auf alle äußere Handlung verzichten kann, ohne dass einem das beim Lesen überhaupt auffallen würde" - Alex Rühle, Süddeutsche Zeitung

  • "Krematorium ist Buddenbrooks mit modernen Mitteln. Es ist ein zentraler Moment in der spanischen Gesellschaft, den Chirbes mit seiner Sammlung ausschweifender Monologe bis in den hintersten Winkel ausleuchtet. Der Franquismus ist vermeintlich überwunden. Eine neue demokratische, kapitalistische Gesellschaft hat sich gebildet, die Phase der Durchlässigkeit ist vorbei, die neue Klasse der Reichen schottet sich ab (weil eine Gesellschaft nur eine begrenzte Anzahl wirklich Reicher verträgt). Blüte und Verfall. (...) Politische Analyse ist sicher eine tragende, aber nicht die einzige Motivschicht in diesem Requiem. Mindestens ebenso lebendig, so detailscharf blickt Chirbes in Krematorium auf Männlichkeit und Sexualität, auf Kapitalismus und Kunst, auf Körperlichkeit und Tourismus, auf die Schriftstellerei." - Elmar Krekeler, Die Welt

  • "Obwohl es einen allwissenden Erzähler gibt, hebt er die Distanz zu seinen Figuren durch psychologische Einfühlung und Sympathie immer wieder auf. Ein Sympathie, die sich auf den Leser überträgt, obwohl die einzelnen Personen in den sich auch zeitlich überschneidenden Erzählabschnitten ganz unterschiedliche Positionen vertreten. Auf den 430 Seiten des Romans wird nur ein einziger Tag geschildert, aber Chirbes gelingt es, die Faszination für seine Figuren, ihre Geschichten und Gedanken beim Leser aufrechtzuerhalten. (...) Rafael Chirbes ist ein eindrucksvoller, ein großer Roman gelungen, ungemein anregend und spannend zu lesen." - Fokke Joel, Die Zeit

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:

       Cremation is set in the fictional Spanish town of Misent on the Mediterranean coast on a single day -- the day when Matías Bertomeu is to be cremated. Death is a time for reflection, and Cremation rotates through a cast of family and acquaintances reflecting on Matías' life and their own in what becomes a large-scale study of contemporary Spain and Spanish life and society.
       First and foremost there is Matías' older brother, the architect turned successful developer Rubén: the first section is narrated by Rubén, and he comes to voice repeatedly in the novel, while almost all the other sections, focused on others, describe their thoughts and actions in the third person, speaking for them, as it were. Rubén is the dominant figure here -- even as: "Matías governed Rubén's inner world: he exerted a lot more influence than what was immediately noticeable".
       Misent isn't so much a microcosm of Spain as an example of the extreme changes the country has undergone, especially at its (literal and figurative) edges, while the characters are examples of the range of paths individuals have taken in the rapidly modernizing post-Franco age. When Rubén and his brother were children, Misent was a dilapidated backwater, just a: "great, empty port, abandoned except for a few fishing boats roped to the pier in the afternoons". Now it's an overbuilt, traffic jammed place that one of the characters compares to Vienna between the wars ("a pocket version of Vienna, given the huge economic, political, aesthetic, philosophical, and moral differences") -- and:

What makes us so like the Viennese is that we're standing at the edge of the abyss. Misent is like the Titanic (.....) It's the Titanic sans grandeur. We have zero intellectual production. So we are as much like the interwar Viennese as an egg is to a chestnut. We're alike only in the cheesy things, that we scratch at the seats of our pants, and a coming storm is going to swallow us whole.
       Rubén has not just bought into the system, he's its embodiment, doing whatever it takes -- from flouting laws to greasing palms to intimidation and taking advantage -- to build his empire. He may have once aspired, idealistically, to be an architect, but instead of building something along the lines of the Karl-Marx-Hof he's responsible for concrete monstrosities that bring to mind, for his daughter Silvia, Albert Speer. But he has embraced his role:
I'm a developer. I like the technical jargon, of the forge, I like concrete, shuttering, buttresses, reinforcing rods, steel meshes, floorings, and cinder blocks. I've always known that this is where my gifts lie. [...] As a developer I'm my own boss, and the owner of my other self, the architect. An architect is the developer's employee. [...] I exert control over myself, I manage myself. I impose the principles of reality.
       He's been very successful -- while Matías flailed, "a despotic Stalinist shipwrecked first on idealism and then on the beach of ecology and a health food obsession that was supposed to save him in the eleventh hour from cirrhosis". The next generation has taken advantage of the new opportunities in their different ways, with Matías' son Ernesto a "free market shark" (always busy, barely flickering in the narrative), while Rubén's daughter from his first marriage, Silvia, is an art restorer who professes disdain for her father's doings and yet takes full advantage of the comfortable lifestyle it affords her.
       Rubén evolved (or devolved) into the magnate he has become. In the different times he grew up in, he was more idealistic; later, his first wife Silvia's mother Amparo, would travel widely with him, to see the great, inspiring art and buildings of Europe and the United States. But, as Rubén puts it, as part of growing up: "I had to silence all the noise inside, all the youthful butterfly dreams." Amparo dies, and the widower marries Maria, many decades younger; the man who read Baudelaire and Thomas Mann, and Mumford, Malraux, and Fischer now lives with a woman who instead reads:
her Knights Templar trash, the crusades, secrets of the Holy Shroud and the Temple of Jerusalem, the Da Vinci Code, the Pyramid of Menkaure, the astronaut of the Palenque Temple.
       There's still a keen awareness among the characters of social classes, and moving between them, but the traditional rules have been upset and many of them find it difficult to navigate the new order -- though Maria slips easily into her new role.
       Even for Rubén, it's suggested, it was difficult to adapt -- but in fully embracing it, going all in, he managed better than those around him:
It's hard to fall from the idea that you can build the world with your own two hands, of having touched the original clay, of having played with it, only to have it taken away. Rubén was the first of us to have capitulated and yet if you take a closer look, he's the only one among us who actually changed anything -- he changed everything. Wherever you look, you see what he's changed, everything that's passed through his hands is different than what itw as before. We call it devastation, but he changed the world he lives in; and though we think it's for the worse, it must certainly provide him with a sense of security. He's the only great potter among us.
       Among the other characters is author Federico Brouard, successful as far as reputation goes, but less so as far as making money from his writing -- "Literature professors study his work, students write their theses on it, but nobody actually buys it" -- and a man now broken by cancer. A onetime friend of Rubén's, he became a thorn in the developer's side with his refusal to sell Rubén a piece of his land that Rubén needed for a planned development, making for all sorts of complications. By the end, however, Brouard has had to sell the land, the symbolic hold-out crumbling against the forces Rubén and his time represent. (Showing also just how interwoven all these lives are, Rubén's son-in-law is a professor of comparative literature who is writing a biography of Brouard.)
       Cremation is a novel about remembrance, the laying to rest of a man who figured significantly in most of these characters' lives, but, as Chirbes notes: "We aren't very good at remembrance". Memory is selective, and so also they choose -- or can't help -- how to see and remember the past, in a world that has been radically transformed over their lifetimes.
       Chirbes' novel is a quite powerful book of testimonies and (often frustrated) experiences, an indictment of post-Franco Spain that has barreled more or less blindly (though also, in the case of Rubén, decidedly clear-eyed) ahead, damn too many of the consequences. The tight cast of characters -- even with the few looser ends, such as Matías' son, barely a presence, or Silvia's son, sent off to Edinburgh without being told his uncle has passed away -- and their relationships work quite well in support of the story, even as the dead man himself remains surprisingly far in the background much of the time. Chirbes' style, the sections each a single paragraph of often dense flow, is effective too.
       It makes for a powerful novel of its time and place.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 December 2021

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Links:

Cremation: Reviews: Other books by Rafael Chirbes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Rafael Chirbes lived 1949 to 2015.

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© 2021 the complete review

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