viernes, 2 de septiembre de 2011

Una novela de Nigeria, Escocia y la búsqueda de un silencio perfecto

Libro "THE ECHO CHAMBER" Autor Luke Williams, 372 pp. Viking. $25.95.
Fuente: Nota de Jan Stuart
Publicada: 12 de agosto 2011 en The New York Times

There was once a time, centuries before Internet shopping, when buyers and sellers could honorably carry out their exchanges without ever meeting.

In the gold-for-salt commerce of Saharan and Sahel tribes, for example, the Saharans would leave a salt pile by the banks of the Niger, then remove themselves so their clients could, in seclusion, deposit a sum of gold.

At that point, the merchants would return, but if the payment was deemed insufficient, they would leave it with the salt and withdraw. The Sahel merchants would approach again, and this good-faith dance of advance and retreat would be repeated until both parties felt content with the deal.

What could be more captivating to Evie Steppman, the shy, aurally challenged scribe at the center of Luke Williams’s crafty first novel, “The Echo Chamber,” than this indirect system, called silent trading?

Silence is, after all, the elusive desideratum of this middle-­aged woman, raised in Africa as the daughter of a British civil servant, who has sequestered herself in an attic in Scotland with a computer and a supply of canned beans, attempting to mute the violent din of her history (along with a case of tinnitus) by transposing as many family stories onto her hard drive as she can bear.

Like the central character in Patrick Süskind’s novel "Perfume," who can discern scents with uncanny proficiency but has no odor himself, Evie is blessed and cursed by the heightened nature of one of her senses.

She is recklessly attuned to the sounds of both her present surroundings and her past, so much so that she’s courting deafness.

“My history is already overburdened with stories,” 54-year-old Evie writes. Weirdly enough, she claims to have been collecting narratives ever since she was in the womb, when her father would regale mother and fetus with Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as fairy tales by Oscar Wilde.

More to the point, perhaps, Evie herself is burdened by the gnawing sense of complicity felt by someone who has elected to listen and bear witness to the sufferings of others rather than actively respond.

This is a woman who has inherited the DNA of a mentally disturbed father and grandfather and has lain in her baby cot alongside the open coffin of her mother, who died upon Evie’s willfully delayed birth.

Evie has weathered the abrupt departure of her only lover and survived the pillaging of the Nigerian village where she spent her formative years. The weight of her burdens, not to say the state of her mind, is such that she’s forever altering and deconstructing her storytelling.

“The Echo Chamber” is an act of unburdening as meta-memoir, a varyingly alluring and alarming tumble of eyewitness stories as mediated by a possibly obsessive-compulsive, probably schizophrenic protagonist who might, if one felt particularly forgiving, be affectionately shrugged off as an eccentric.

Evie’s mournful birth in 1940s Lagos presages the blood-soaked emergence of an independent Nigeria.

She deploys a taped interview with her father to chronicle these troubled years, and later shares the diary of her actress-­lover, Damaris (whom she woos, aptly enough, with silence).

The novel’s most devastating testimony comes from a Nigerian translator whose pamphlets detail a British-­led massacre, and from a gruesome recounting of tribal violence written by Evie’s former childhood playmate Ade.

Evie attempts to bring order to this cache of primary research material with cryptic self-­interrogation. “I am the (until now silent) repository of the dreamers of Empire,” she states with a stolid formality that sometimes weighs down her narrative.

For a person who purports to worship at the altar of silence, Evie has a hard time shutting up.

She perpetually waylays her storytellers to remind us that she’s hovering in her attic, sifting notes, heaving sighs (“Enough! I am tired of this chapter”) and teasing us with hints of momentous events that won’t be revealed till later on. Amid these increasingly lugubrious interpolations, Evie aligns herself with fabulists from time immemorial, most significantly an ancient geographer whose fantastical mappa mundi exemplifies his poet-­mentor’s credo: to write “is to filch and deceive.”

Evie’s own authorial deceptions are as persistent as they are confounding.

Why does she contradict her own facts, even down to the age at which she acquired her Genesis-­redolent name? (She concocts a corresponding fall from paradise for herself and her Nigerian buddy. Ade and Evie, indeed!)

Is the grotesque backstory of her watchmaker-­grandfather (in which Williams assiduously mimics the storybook syntax of Günter Grass’s novel “The Tin Drum”) being filtered through his madness or his granddaughter’s?

And what’s up with Evie’s phantasmagoric fever dream set in the sewers of Lagos? As with Grass’s prevaricating narrator, Oskar, who observes his past from a mental institution, we must receive Evie’s history with more than a little skepticism.

The most audacious deception in “The Echo Chamber” is reserved for Damaris, whose diary has an ebullience and erotic fizz that are often absent from Evie’s repressed maunderings.

Not until Williams’s acknowledgments, however, do we learn that Damaris’s entries were composed by the author’s dedicatee, Natasha Soobramanien.

How are we to receive this information? The answer, if not the key to the whole novel, may lie in its final pages, in which Evie discovers her treasured mappa mundi ravaged by moths and concludes that “the map engendered by the moths is every bit as real or valid a representation of the world as the mappa mundi itself.”

Corrupted truths? Plagiarized storytelling? Ghost writers? When attempting to capture the dynamism of history, Williams implies, you have to go for broke.

Jan Stuart es el autor de "Las Crónicas de Nashville:. La realización de la obra maestra de Robert Altman"

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