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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Blind Rider

Juan Goytisolo

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To purchase The Blind Rider

Title: The Blind Rider
Author: Juan Goytisolo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 119 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Blind Rider - US
The Blind Rider - UK
The Blind Rider - Canada
The Blind Rider - India
Der blinde Reiter - Deutschland
Telón de boca - España
  • Spanish title: Telón de boca
  • Translated by Peter Bush

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Our Assessment:

A- : powerful reflective personal work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural . 13/2/2003 Ricardo Senabre
FAZ . 10/6/2006 Walter Haubrich
The Guardian . 4/11/2005 Adam Feinstein
The Independent . 9/12/2005 Boyd Tonkin
Le Monde diplomatique . 11/2005 Milan Kundera
NZZ . 2/8/2006 Kersten Knipp
The Spectator . 26/11/2005 Raymond Carr
TLS . 6/6/2003 Ryan Prout
TLS . 25/11/2005 Toby Lichtig

  From the Reviews:
  • "El autor se mueve con gran libertad en los confines del relato, el ensayo, la remembranza personal o el ensueño, en una síntesis que funde algunos de los motivos y escenarios presentes en su obra con la perspectiva de un personaje que acaba de experimentar el "crudo rigor" de la viudedad y se reconoce súbitamente vulnerable (...) En este sentido, el testimonio literario contenido en Telón de boca, mezcla de elegía y meditatio mortis, es sobresaliente por la economía de medios puestos en juego, por la difícil sencillez del discurso, por la sobriedad en la confesión de estados íntimos y por la capacidad para seleccionar algunos hechos minúsculos del pasado para sintetizar lo más significativo de una historia sentimental" - Ricardo Senabre, El Cultural

  • "Nicht einmal die Melancholie bleibt längere Zeit bei ihm. Sie streift ihn lediglich in nur kurzen Bildern aus seinem früheren Leben, die sogleich wieder von anderen Fragmenten verdrängt werden. Mit all diesen punktuellen Erinnerungen ist eine Sinngebung seines Lebens unmöglich. Er irrt wie ein Blinder durch die Vielzahl der Fragmente aus seinem bisherigen Leben" - Walter Haubrich, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The protagonist of this fictional memoir never expected to outlive his wife, and the loss of her overwhelming vitality has led to a shrinking of his world. And yet there are ambiguities in his memory. (...) For all the angry rejection of any facile humanism, however, there is never any doubt that the protagonist opposes all forms of tyranny." - Adam Feinstein, The Guardian

  • "Yet this haunting meditation on love, time and mortality (in Peter Bush's translation) moves beyond memoir. A dream-like last trip to the Atlas mountains blurs the edges of life and death." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "Goytisolo ist ein empfindsamer, ein genauer Erzähler mit ausgesprochener Abneigung gegen gestanzte Phrasen. Umso bedauerlicher, dass er sich hier so unbekümmert den abgedroschenen Phrasen des Atheismus hingibt, eines Atheismus, der sein provokantes Potenzial längst verloren und auch sonst viel Erhellendes nicht mehr zu sagen hat." - Kersten Knipp, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(H)is book is neither an easy nor a comforting read. The reader must work out for himself the message, girding his loins to tackle what will be, Goytisolo says, his last book." - Raymond Carr, The Spectator

  • "Though somewhat hermetic, Telón de boca is nevertheless a thought-provoking study of loss and of a disillusionment which defies words." - Ryan Prout, Times Literary Supplement

  • "It is in these measured digressions that Goytisolo is at his most powerful. (...) Goytisolo is no stranger to the tirade; but it is when he is at his most wrathful, most Lear-like, that The Blind Rider loses its way." - Toby Lichtig, 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:

       The dates of composition given at the end of The Blind Rider -- November, 1996 to August, 2002 -- give some indication of how much went into this slim novel. Goytisolo's wife, Gallimard editor Monique Lange, passed away in October 1996, and The Blind Rider is clearly the product of his prolonged effort at coming to terms with her death, which led him also to reflect on his own life and work. It is a novel of restlessness -- "He hadn't slept for months", it begins --, frustration, and, especially, anger -- the anger of the impotent, of how small and helpless we are when facing time, history, and fate, regardless of our efforts.
       The narrator clearly is getting on in years and worries that he doesn't have much time left -- and hence much opportunity to affect change. But then regardless of what one does and accomplishes:

Time was a blind rider nobody could unsaddle. As he galloped, he ravaged all that seemed enduring, transformed landscapes, reduced dreams to ashes.
       The past, too -- that life lived so far, and the works produced -- isn't a satisfying foundation of solidity he can rest his laurels on, either; indeed:
The book of his life lacked a plot: there were only fragments of pages, loose or ill-fitting pieces, outlines of a possible theme.
       It's not that he's dissatisfied with having taken this path; nevertheless:
He wanted to be neither model nor statue. His attempt to avoid any acceptable definition or morality responded to that wish. His writing left no trails, erased all traces: he wasn't the sum total of his books, but what was subtracted from them. Only the release contract was missing and that would be along soon.
       Literature is one thing he has always been able to return to and find a hold in, and he describes his finding that in his youth:
Literature united and distilled the essence of two childhood passions -- history and geography -- in a unique arena. Escape was possible without taking a step.
       Yet it accompanies him also when, more restlessly, he travels, too. Throughout The Blind Rider he returns to the works of Leo Tolstoy, most notably with Hadje Murad [so the spelling here], which he takes with him when he makes his disheartening trip to Chechnya.
       Much of the book is an indictment of god himself -- the "Big Bastard" with his "malicious mind", the "Soulless One" who allows for immense suffering on an inconceivable scale -- as witnessed specifically in Chechnya, but also constantly and near-universally throughout history.
       Part of the novel imagines god explaining himself -- setting the scene very differently than the popular image has it:
You who imagine me blissfully surrounded by my angels and devotees, don't realise it's only the deeds of ill-doers which amuse me. No perversity is alien to me.
       Goytisolo looks towards the deity, but sees only a black and bleak and essentially Satanic being -- though it is definitely the creator (well, the guy who: "shat your physical world") himself he's positing. Goytisolo's god is not amoral but pointedly immoral -- but ultimately also only a figure of blame, to take or leave, depending on how one feels about it on any given day. Regardless, the horror that is and has been life and civilization remains (well, until we die and civilization collapses entirely).
       The narrator recalls his dead companion having told him: "living with you is like serving an apprenticeship in solitude". Without her, his personal solitude is only magnified, the inward gaze so piercing that it eats away at him -- yet in writing he has a release, and so, while The Blind Rider is a terribly bleak misanthropic work, it is also one whose brutal honesty and sincere feelings -- the compassion and the love he feels that make him howl at the circumstances, and the world -- are moving and powerful. It makes for yet another remarkable work -- even if also only another "loose or ill-fitting" piece -- from Goytisolo's hand.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 November 2011

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The Blind Rider: Reviews: Juan Goytisolo: Other books by Goytisolo under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Spanish literature 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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