Luis Martin Santos: Time of Silence. Calder & Boyars. 30s.

‘The facts are brutal, they must be reported.’ This, in the eyes of most young Spanish novelists, is the present task, and their school of reportage-fiction, influenced by the ’30’s, suggests, often powerfully, that their country’s social reality precludes other effective literary forms. Time of Silence, the best Spanish novel since the civil war, suggests otherwise. Its force, and the unity of the multiform styles at its author’s command—lies in its irony, that typically Spanish form of fatalism which is here turned into a scalpel. It is a return, not to the ’30’s, but to the tradition of Cervantes, and it is little wonder that, despite the heavy censorship (all the cuts have been restored in this excellent translation), it had a bombshell effect in Spain. In a few brilliant pages, which take the reader from Madrid’s hovels to its high society, the novel reveals the entrails of a society living out Franco’s ‘25 years of peace’, with a detachment that is in itself an ironic return on the author’s commitment. A society of ‘dried mummies stretched out in the pure air of the meseta . . . waiting for our small silent ecstasy,’ where ‘eyes that can still shine after 15 or 20 years of poverty, scarcity and struggle . . . confound by creating an illusion that things are not so bad when in reality they are very bad indeed.’ As much, if not more than his contemporaries, Martin Santos, a surgeon and psychiatrist who turned to writing (like Cervantes) as a spare-time task, understood Spain and its literary tradition. (Readers may remember a selection of his stories, the first ever published, in nlr 34). His death in a car crash at the age of 40, two years ago was a loss, not merely to Spain, as his only novel clearly shows.