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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Garden of Secrets

Juan Goytisolo

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To purchase The Garden of Secrets

Title: The Garden of Secrets
Author: Juan Goytisolo
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997 (Eng. 2000)
Length: 149 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Garden of Secrets - US
. The Garden of Secrets - UK
. The Garden of Secrets - Canada
The Garden of Secrets - India
. Trois semaines en ce jardin - France
  • Spanish title: Las semanas del jardín
  • Translated by Peter Bush

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Our Assessment:

A- : neat imagined collaborative tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times A 22/4/2001 Douglas Messerli
The Observer A- 17/9/2000 Stephanie Merritt
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2001 Thomas Hove
The Spectator A 16/9/2000 Francis King
TLS . 17/11/2000 Shomit Dutta

  From the Reviews:
  • "Goytisolo's tale is not just about a fictitious poet but also about the nature of storytelling and concerns the whole milieu of a culture that destroys men and women "in a climate of fanatic hysteria and persecution." (...) In The Garden of Secrets, Goytisolo has given us a beautifully written metaphor for what it means to seek out the truth in a world often dominated by lies." - Douglas Messerli, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Those who long for the clear lines of realist fiction will perhaps find the novel frustrating. But Goytisolo's extraordinary lyrical and imaginative gifts, faithfully transposed here by his long-time translator, Peter Bush, are simultaneously forceful and beguiling, and the only response is to give in to the tumultuous, hallucinatory voices." - Stephanie Merritt, The Observer

  • "In typical postmodern fashion, the facts of Eusebio's life remain a mystery, and his poetic reputation may have been a complete sham. But the patchwork, eclectic fiction about him stands as another important addition to Goytisolo's attempt to reinvigorate Spanish fiction by "poisoning" it with a transhistorical and international range of subject matter and with formal innovations that aim to open up new channels for thought." - Thomas Hove, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "With its philosophical and political preoccupations, erudite references to often obscure writers of the past, and its dexterous juggling with events that may be either fiction, fact or an amalgamation of the two, this is the sort of novel that rarely gets written in this England -- or, at all events, rarely gets published. As a work both of self-conscious artifice and of commanding artistry, it now teases and now fascinates the reader into reluctant admiration." - Francis King, The Spectator

  • "In The Garden of Secrets, Goytisolo seeks to extend his war against the tyranny of genre by exposing its shackling effect on reading. But, in creating a text that needs to be read in different, potentially conflicting ways, there is a degree of destructive interference. This is felt most keenly in the tension between simultaneously entertaining and disconcerting the reader." - Shomit Dutta, 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:

       Juan Goytisolo's fiction often has autobiographical elements, and there are often characters -- sometimes even narrators -- bearing a distinct resemblance to the author. But Goytisolo does not feel entirely comfortable in the pages of his books, generally emphasizing that the picture is unlikely to be an accurate one and that the narrator is not to be considered reliable. In The Garden of Secrets he goes a step further: the book is presented as a collaborative effort by a "Readers' Circle", published under the name of an invented author, "Juan Goytisolo". The English edition even lists The Readers' Circle as the copyright holders, with Juan Goytisolo only holding the "transcription copyright".
       Distrust of authorship in general is evident already in the first line, which explains that this book was inspired by "a short review of a work whose author I'd rather not remember". In the introductory chapter the reader is told that this project "was based on the systematic demolition of that disposable entity, the novelist, a happy, liberating dispensation." At least on the surface he manages this successfully.
       The Garden of Secrets is a novel told in 28 parts, as the members of the Readers' Circle -- a varied group -- invent a collective story about a character named Eusebio. Twenty-eight unreliable narrators for the price of one ! Eusebio was a poet and friend of Lorca, he was arrested by the Spanish Fascists in 1936 and interned in a military psychiatric centre. The members of the Readers' Circle tell his story, in many variations. Depending on what evidence they believe (both fact and fiction around the shadowy figure are unclear) and on their own backgrounds, the storytellers see and present Eusebio's life differently, suggesting the possible paths it took.
       There are 28 storytellers, equal to the number of characters in the Arabic alphabet. The first story is introductory, and there are several that conclude the tale: Nuun thinks he has drawn the short straw and must conclude the story, ending his account: "Dead men can't talk, so be it." Haa follows this, speaking from beyond the grave. Waw explains the invention of the author, and Yaa offers a bibliography.
       Eusebio's story focusses on his internment and then escape to North Africa. Each narrator tells a slightly (or very) different story, taking what has gone before and moving on in often completely unexpected ways. Some of the episodes have little to do with the nominal subject -- so Taa who goes to Marrakesh "in the footsteps of Eusebio" but recounts only how he got hoodwinked by the locals. There are extracts from an interrogation of Eusebio and a "Viscontian spotlight" by one of the more cinematically inclined storytellers, and many more variations of looking at Eusebio's life, from without and within.
       Goytisolo finds different voice and different approaches for all his storytellers, his powers on full display. The book is a puzzle and a game, and a clever entertainment. It is a literary text, the books read by the Readers' Circle clearly and often openly playing a role in the stories. Fernando de Rojas, Cervantes, Quevedo, Jan Potocki (a possible descendant of whom plays a prominent role in the story), and Borges (with his forking paths) all influence the text.
       The Garden of Secrets is a short book, the episodes brief and often only sketchy but never slight. The novel is a curious and largely successful exercise: Goytisolo is an immensely gifted writer, and he plays these games beautifully. There are no clear answers, no final certainty as to who the character Eusebio was -- but that is as it should be. Recommended.

       It is worth emphasizing that Goytisolo does all he can to distance himself from the idea of authorship. At the beginning of the novel he writes: "The co-readers' aim was to put an end to the oppressive, pervasive notion of the Author". In fact, what he has done is reinforce the notion: The Garden of Secrets is solely Goytisolo's work, the voices all his. This is not an experiment he dared with a real "readers' circle"; instead he felt he had to invent it and all its members. How much more god-like can an author be ? Goytisolo coyly denounces the idea of authorship, but he can imagine nothing else. Though his fictions seem to deny it he clearly finds the future of fiction only firmly founded in its past. In this respect his supposedly radical texts are, in fact, utterly reactionary.

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The Garden of Secrets: Reviews: Juan Goytisolo: Other books by Goytisolo under review: Other books of interest 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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