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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Hedge

Miguel Delibes

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To purchase The Hedge

Title: The Hedge
Author: Miguel Delibes
Genre: Novel
Written: 1969 (Eng. 1983)
Length: 206 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Hedge - US
The Hedge - UK
The Hedge - Canada
  • Spanish title: Parábola del náufrago
  • Translated by Frances M. Lopez-Morillas

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Our Assessment:

A- : not subtle, but daring and powerful

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 11/12/1983 Toby Talbot

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The complete review's Review:

       The Spanish title of The Hedge is Parábola del náufrago -- "Parable of a Shipwrecked Man" -- and that is what it is: a none too subtle parable of a man who sees himself shipwrecked, isolated, and doomed. In her introduction to Delibes' The Wars of our Ancestors, Agnes Moncy explains:

The novel was inspired by Delibes's pain, in Czechoslovakia, at seeing the failure of the independence movement in 1968. For this reason, his protagonist's name, Jacinto San José, was given in Russian in the dedication -- Giacint Sviatoi Iosif -- as a tribute to oppressed citizens in the Soviet Union.
       From the dedication to the central feature of the story -- the hedge of the English title -- Delibes makes his intention and meaning very clear, and elements of this are simplistic. Nevertheless, there's enough art here, especially in the presentation, to make for an impressive read.
       The Hedge is the story of Jacinto San José Niño (who happens to share the same birthday as the author, though he is four years younger). He works for Don Abdón Ltd., the monolithic entity that dominates this world -- both totalitarian state and capitalistic monopoly. Don Abdón himself is the father-figure, beneficent leader, high-priest, and boss all rolled into one, praised as "the most motherly father of all fathers". Jacinto is a clerk, an adder who doesn't tally figures corresponding to anything real. As he is reminded:
To breathe for Don Abdón or not to breathe, that is the option, and in the Company we do not add Swiss francs, or dollars, or kilowatt-hours, or girls in nightgowns but solely and exclusively addends
       So limited is Jacinto's job and world that he is not even capable of subtracting or multiplying or dividing: only adding. But a crisis occurs -- an "adding neurosis": when Jacinto writes zeroes he gets dizzy, making it impossible for him to do his job. He is sent off to Rest and Recuperation Hut No. 13, where he can live alone and get well once again. And Don Abdón also suggests: "For the timid man, the solution is a hedge", giving Jacinto some seeds he can plant around the hut.
       The hedge, of course, turns out to be more than Jacinto can handle:
The hedge's proliferation is fabulous and progressive, that is, the larger it becomes the more rapid is its propagation, and with its propagation its avid aggressiveness increases.
       It encircles Jacinto, and defies all his attempts to escape, growing ever bigger and coming ever closer. Even as Jacinto comes to understand his predicament -- the same as in the outside world, except much more immediate -- he finds he can do nothing to help himself. "You're shipwrecked, you're shipwrecked, you're shipwrecked," is all he can finally tell himself.
       Jacinto's travails with the hedge are the centrepiece of the novel, but there's considerably more to it. Many of Jacinto's previous difficulties in dealing with the limited life and opportunities he had are mentioned. He is a cog in the machinery, but he doesn't quite fit, and even if he doesn't have the mental acuity or the courage to actively oppose Don Abdón, there's a note of dissidence that he can't suppress.
       His political activism manifests itself in an uncertain ambition to make the world a better place. He joins an Esperanto group, whose members believe a universal language might help people and nations understand each other, but he's not convinced. Jacinto believes: "The spoken word is not only undependable but an instrument of aggression." One of his other efforts is "contracto", a language in which words and sentences are basically abbreviated, Jacinto believing: "fewer and shorter words might be the regulating element needed by humanity". He even defines himself by it, proclaiming: "Contracto is me" -- but he can not contract himself into the nothingness that would allow him to survive (by the ultimate negation) in the world of Don Abdón. Continuing to exist -- and continuing to resist, even if only on this very limited level -- Don Abdón (representative for the system) has no choice but to isolate and crush Jacinto.
       Throughout the book Delibes plays with language, not only with Jacinto's contracto (used, on and off, in the text as well) but also in more expansive language, with sections with spelled-out punctuation ("Gen didn't say anything comma he kept still comma", etc.) or others in which the central character is both representative and individual: "He (Jacinto) is startled", etc. It's an occasionally ingenious interplay of language and content (and comes across quite well even in translation), though the shifts make for some challenges as well.
       From realism to fantasy, the changing perspectives ensure that the reader is kept off-balance. Instead of a single approach, Delibes twists his fiction: elements are pure Kafka, while there's also a good dose of magical realism and some underground-Soviet-inspired absurd black humour. There are numerous powerful scenes, including the hazing of co-worker César Fuentes (thereafter a manic-depressive called Cesarina by his officemates) and Jacinto's struggles with the hedge.
       An unusual novel, and perhaps too obvious in its message, but still impressive.

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The Hedge: Miguel Delibes: Other books by Miguel Delibes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Miguel Delibes was born in 1920 and died in 2010.

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© 2004-2010 the complete review

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