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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Cock-Eyed Comedy

Juan Goytisolo

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To purchase A Cock-Eyed Comedy

Title: A Cock-Eyed Comedy
Author: Juan Goytisolo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 173 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: A Cock-Eyed Comedy - US
Carajicomedia - US
A Cock-Eyed Comedy - UK
A Cock-Eyed Comedy - Canada
A Cock-Eyed Comedy - India
Foutricomédie - France
Carajicomedia - España
  • Spanish title: Carajicomedia
  • Translated by Peter Bush
  • Note that the English translation incorporates the extensive revisions Goytisolo made to the first two chapters of the novel

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Our Assessment:

B- : somewhat too rollicking literary-sexual-religious adventures

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 19/10/2002 Alfred Hickling
The Independent . 12/10/2002 Amanda Hopkinson
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/2006 Pedro Ponce
San Francisco Chronicle A 12/2/2006 Joe Woodward
TLS . 22/11/2002 Martin Schifino

  From the Reviews:
  • "I feel moved to register my resentment at being addressed as either mischievous or sweaty, having been unenflamed by the tedious, postmodern wise-cracking throughout." - Alfred Hickling, The Guardian

  • "The point of a picaresque tale is to be found in its often scurrilously sacrilegious anecdotes. Goytisolo's differs only in that it travels across centuries as well as countries. (...) This work of parody is intended not only to subvert but to enlighten. By using the Latinate language of the Church, Goytisolo is at one with Apuleius, Boccaccio and Villon." - Amanda Hopkinson, The Independent

  • "(A) picaresque hash of world history, Spanish culture, and religious orthodoxy. (...) In Peter Bush’s translation, Goytisolo presents American readers with a playful satire that is at once hopeful and -- in its backdrop of intolerance and inquisition -- disturbingly familiar." - Pedro Ponce, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "(A) fun, troubling, troublesome read. (...) For most readers, even book reviewers, the payoff for slugging through pages and pages of literary acrobatics, for withstanding a writer's verbal grandstanding, has to be big. Goytisolo delivers. While he's busy poking fun at nearly all of us reading his novel, he's also pulling back the veils of religion, politics, sex and gender we all enjoy wearing." - Joe Woodward, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Goytisolo has chosen to disregard plot, development, suspense and, most egregiously, the reader; so the hope is that language, at least, should soar. But there is little room for take-off within the highly conventional idiom of liturgy. The problem is compounded by sophomoric phrases (.....) It seems that A Cock-eyed Comedy remains too un-universal, too quirky to travel well. A certain uneasiness pervades even the original. Goytisolo may be a virtuoso, a forcible presence in the language, but there is no engaging tenderness, no aesthetic bliss in the prose." - Martin Schifino, 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:

       A Cock-Eyed Comedy lives up to its title -- and, typically for the book, does so in more ways than one. Not only is the title to be taken more or less literally, but it also references another book of the same title, a 16th century Cock-Eyed Comedy that here takes on a life of its own.
       The book begins with a dramatis personae, paragraph-long descriptions of a dozen characters (real people and characters from other fictions among them) that one imagines will figure prominently in the text to follow. But Goytisolo doesn't make it easy: his metafictional playfulness centres around a transmigrating figure that reappears in many guises and with many names across the centuries. And among those peripherally on the scene: a Juan Goytisolo, of course, a writer not taken entirely seriously .....
       What's it about ? Well, in some ways it's nothing less than a summation of five hundred years of subversion, manifested largely in the sexual (and secondarily in the literary), in the face of Catholic narrow-mindedness and oppression. A common -- perhaps the fundamental -- complaint of the characters is:

     What a wretched misfortune to be born in Catholic Spain through centuries of implacable persecution ! If only our mothers had shat us a thousand leagues from there, in Ottoman lands or tropical Africa !
       The carefree Moorish and Turkish idylls, where well-endowed boys can be (and, more importantly, do) boys (even when they have families at home), is a popular Goytisolo-fantasy; here he indulges in it more than most readers are likely to appreciate. An early chapter is little more than an embellished list of various sexual relationships, archly recounted with descriptions such as:
     Zinedine possessed a veteran member -- a lethal jack-in-the-box which he affectionately dubbed his "devil." The temper and firmness of its virtue made him one of the most meritorious keepers of the Order of Perpetual Succor.
     He would alleviate me once or twice or thrice and then remain stretched out, an arm around my shoulders, in fruitful, silent contemplation.
     Saleh was lively and well-equipped. He kneeled on me in bed or bunk on a level with my arms and poured out his carrot-juice while I spurred on his devotions by rubbing mine in his inner chamber.
       A little of this goes a long way, and there's an awful lot of it (emphasis on the awful). The narrator's explanation and exhortation suggest more wishful thinking than can reasonably expected from readers:
     Those penetrating pages, those personal experiences of harsh, acerbic devotions are meant for you, discreet reader. Meditate on the lives of those saints and on the multiple access routes to the inner dwelling until their juicy marrow impregnates you.
       De Sade is invoked, and Goytisolo follows in the tradition of the raucous, subversive Spanish writers from Quevedo on, but not to the same effect. For one thing, his heart doesn't seem to be in it -- or rather: is too much in it. Where de Sade is ruthless and brutal, Goytisolo actually cares. Sex -- all this sex -- is meaningful to him, and so are the lovers. He wouldn't have lasted two pages in even the tamest Sade-story.
       Part of the fun of Goytisolo's take in A Cock-Eyed Comedy is how very personal it is -- not so much in the writing from experience, but in the literary-historical connexions he makes. Goytisolo seems to have read it all. But the results ain't straightforward:
     I was the first forebear of Tristram Shandy, Blas Cubas and Christopher-the Unborn, although unlike three-in-one I didn't conclude my literary life at the door to the maternal cloister and couldn't dialogue with the reader-selector through its multiple veils.
       The book is built up on a long literary tradition, of these forebears and many more, and Goytisolo uses others' work throughout this metafictional super-narrative. That, however, also does not make the book more approachable: the tradition is largely the Spanish one, and Goytisolo revels in what is, to English-speaking readers, surely very obscure.
       The energy and pathos of the novel do impress, but it's not a comfortable read, and seems almost self-defeating: Goytisolo doesn't want to make anything easy. Needless to say, in this novel which, despite its slight size, has everything and the kitchen sink in it Goytisolo heads off the critics at the pass too, suggesting what they will say "after skimming through the book":
It's a total hodge-podge !
No narrative coherence whatsoever !
The structure's contrived, a pastiche !
Hallucinating self-infatuation !
More dithyrambs to machos and hirsute yokels !
That old inane onanist song !
No dramatic progression.
A circular, reptitive text.
       Spot on, the list at least proves Goytiosolo is very aware of what he's doing here -- i.e. it is intentional.
       The text is not impenetrable, but there are a lot of veils to lift (and a lot of penetrations to side-step). Goytisolo is an always interesting writer, but he's asking an awful lot from the reader here. By the end, even heterosexual readers will likely feel they've taken one in the rear (and readers can forget about ever drinking carrot juice again).
       Perhaps readers more attuned to the homosexual experience will find more here to ... revel in, but Goytisolo's odd erotic nostalgia and wide-eyed longing for Arab and Turkish men seems fairly limited regardless of reader-inclinations. As to the challenge to Catholicism the novel offers -- the publishers describe the book as "a wicked satire on religion" on the back cover -- it too is very much a critique from within that culture, specifically steeped in history rather than just the present day.
       Of some interest, but handle with care.

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A Cock-Eyed Comedy: Reviews: Juan Goytisolo: Other books by Goytisolo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Juan Goytisolo (1931-2017) lived in voluntary exile since 1956, mainly in Paris and Morocco. He is the author of numerous highly regarded novels.

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