cover image Mimoun


Rafael Chirbes. Serpent's Tail, $12.99 (144pp) ISBN 978-1-85242-220-2

Manuel, the narrator of this strange, haunting first novel by Spanish author Chirbes, is a struggling, bisexual novelist who comes to Morocco to escape the pressures of life in Madrid. Seeking peace and quiet in which to write, he moves to a town in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and commutes to Fez, where he teaches Spanish at the university. Overwhelmed by the exoticism and loneliness of a new culture, he gradually stops writing, and begins to drink heavily and to break down. His no less neurotic circle of European friends finds itself at odds with the local authorities and with mysterious thugs, and finally Manuel is forced to leave Morocco. In echoes of Paul Bowles and with an unrelenting honesty, Chirbes chronicles Manuel's disintegration into alcoholic and sexual excess. The book reads a bit like a stranger's diary in which the inner life of the protagonist is casually revealed to the reader in hints and fragments. Manuel is ruthless in his self-evaluation, never maudlin or self-pitying. Instead, his tone is shot through with an eerie calm that many readers will find disturbing. Not to all tastes, but an impressive debut. (Aug.)