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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Nocilla Dream

Agustín Fernández Mallo

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To purchase Nocilla Dream

Title: Nocilla Dream
Author: Agustín Fernández Mallo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 191 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: in The Nocilla Trilogy - US
Nocilla Dream - US (Spanish)
Nocilla Dream - UK
Nocilla Dream - Canada
Nocilla Dream - France
Nocilla Dream - España
  • Spanish title: Nocilla Dream
  • Translated by Thomas Bunstead
  • The first volume in Fernández Mallo's 'Nocilla trilogy'

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Our Assessment:

B : creative presentation of global and local (inter)connections

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Harper's* . 3/2019 Christopher Beha
Independent on Sunday . 20/12/2015 Andrew Gallix
The Nation* . 14/3/2019 Jessica Loudis
TLS . 30/3/2016 Hirsh Sawhney
World Lit. Today* . Summer/2019 J.David Osborne

[* review of entire trilogy]

  From the Reviews:
  • "As this title suggests, the book is less an adaptation of the article than an adaptation of the dream you might have if reading the article had been the last thing you did before turning off the lights. (...) The whole thing is somewhat like the Shoe Tree -- a network of branches, extending from a tenuously rooted foundation, onto which a confounding variety of crap has been tossed." - Harper's, Christopher Beha

  • "Nocilla Dream is a world seen in a grain of Nevada sand. Its arborescent structure stems from a solitary poplar tree, decorated with hundreds of pairs of shoes, growing alongside US Route 50. By juxtaposing fiction with non-fiction -- more than 20 chapters are lifted verbatim from extraneous works -- the author has created a hybrid genre that mirrors our networked lives, allowing us to inhabit its interstitial spaces." - Andrew Gallix, Independent on Sunday

  • "Nocilla Dream was completed in just three months, and the final version reflected its haphazard creation. (...) Reading Nocilla Dream, as many critics have noted, often feels like channel surfing." - Jessica Loudis, The Nation

  • "Mallo’s unconventional assemblage of short stories and musings explores the seemingly mystical connections between science, art and culture (.....) Mallo is strong on character, pacing and setting. This might have been a less tiresome book had he forsaken some of his self-conscious musings and drawn more consistently on these talents." - Hirsh Sawhney, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Plot-wise, Nocilla is less concerned with straightforward narrative than it is with a kind of shotgun blast of fragments about the environment and architecture and skin and weather. The flash pieces orbit an invisible sun that is occasionally made visible by a central object, such as a tree with thousands of shoes dangling in its branches, or a small capsule of radioactivity hidden in the overstuffed stomachs of eastern European refugees. All throughout the text there is the lingering specter of entropy" - J.David Osborne, World Literature Today

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:

       Nocilla Dream has 113 chapters, and the first is one of quite a few that is, in its entirety, taken from someone else's writing. Fernández Mallo precedes that with two epigraphs, but the first chapter -- despite, like the epigraphs, being essentially entirely another's piece of writing -- is presented as a more integral part of the novel. It is a rather daring way to begin one's novel, the author's role from the get-go identified less as that of creative writer than as curator (of material and words).
       Nocilla Dream's isn't a truly fragmentary work, but much of it -- both what Fernández Mallo writes, and what he takes from others (which includes not just wholesale (and attributed) chunks, but also shorter bits and pieces slipped into what passes for his own writing) -- is fragmented, what story there is not unfolding in particularly neat and simple style.
       The second chapter opens the story proper, as it were, in desolate Nevada, specifically on U.S. Route 50, "the loneliest highway in North America", and the stretch between Ely and Carson City. This "260-mile stretch with a brothel at either end", is a locale the story returns to repeatedly -- and a lone poplar tree, about midway down the road, with an enormous number of shoes dangling from it, is a central motif. (In the Credits, Fernández Mallo acknowledges that he has adapted numerous articles from The New York Times in the novel, and specifically that the novel "began out of a reading" of an article about such a tree there.)
       Nocilla Dream presents a variety of characters and stories, short chapters focused on one or another, moving on and then sometimes returning to them in later episodes. They include a Borges-obsessed man in Las Vegas, an Austrian journalist stationed in Peking (whose wife has an online relationship with Nevada-based Billy), and a man who has lived in the extraterritorial limbo-world of Singapore International Airport for four years. Among Fernández Mallo's many themes is that of place, and nationhood, as he repeatedly focuses on the phenomenon of 'micronations', entities outside the familiar international order, niche places of various sorts that have established themselves, in one way or another.
       Full of found texts and found stories, the novel also uses -- though only textually -- the concept of found photographs, or the cutting out of photographs and saving them out of context. In putting together his novel Fernández Mallo, also takes something of an album-approach: there's a cohesiveness to much of it, including the integrating of the found pieces, but he doesn't go too much out of his way to fashion a traditional narrative out of it all, satisfied with the piecemeal feel, a very loose net of global interconnections.
       There is also an underlying questioning of the creative process in modern times, and specifically of the novel-form, in this novel (which of course questions the novel-form by its very form and approach ...). A chapter describing how hotels deal with the extensive pilfering that goes on manages to end on the note: "The death of the novel", while both the epigraphs suggest doubts about writing and (the value of) reading; so also at one point he opens a chapter claiming: "Everyone knows that to write is to have died". Even the obsessive Borges-fan finds his belief in the master called into question -- a modern-day loss-of-god equivalent (that, however, he is able to channel into something creative -- even if not with complete success).
       Slightly problematic is that in such a carefully constructed text one expects everything to be presented as it is on purpose, with thought and reason behind it -- yet there are some instances that, ultimately, can only be read as errors, somewhat undermining the rest of the text. So, for example, at one point characters are in 'Peking', at another in 'Beijing' -- a differentiation that one would expect to have some meaning, but doesn't (seem to) here.
       There's also the claim:

Heraclitus said it, Einstein said it, the A-Team in Episode 237 said it, and many others besides
       The American TV series The A-Team did run for five seasons, but that only added up to 98 episodes; if this is meant as hyperbole of sorts, it's a poor fit with the tone of the rest of the novel.
       Meanwhile, a casual translation-slip -- the title of the Michael Landon TV series from the 1980s is translated literally back from the Spanish ('Autopista hacia el Cielo') as 'Freeway to the Sky', instead of the correct Highway to Heaven (in a chapter that gets Little House on the Prairie and Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation right) -- can also lead one to question other details in the text (and translation).
       Nocilla Dream is a novel of disconnects as much as it is of connection. Fernández Mallo is not out to tie his stories together with the neatness of a David Mitchell; instead, there are lots of frayed threads that aren't even meant to necessarily lead beyond their examples -- along with some more consequentially seen-through narrative threads. Much of the writing here is very good -- but readers may sometimes wish the connections, including from the longer quote-pieces, were easier to see. (It should be noted that this is the first in a trilogy, and that Fernández Mallo may well have built a more cohesive structure across the three books; the other two volumes are, however, not yet available in English translation.)
       An appealing if occasionally frustrating read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 September 2016

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Nocilla Dream: Reviews (* review of entire trilogy): Other books by Agustín Fernández Mallo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Agustín Fernández Mallo was born in 1967.

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© 2016-2021 the complete review

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