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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Manuscript of Ashes

Antonio Muñoz Molina

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To purchase A Manuscript of Ashes

Title: A Manuscript of Ashes
Author: Antonio Muñoz Molina
Genre: Novel
Written: 1986 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 305 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: A Manuscript of Ashes - US
Beatus ille - US
A Manuscript of Ashes - UK
A Manuscript of Ashes - Canada
Beatus ille - France
Beatus ille - Deutschland
  • Spanish title: Beatus ille
  • Translated by Edith Grossman

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing, if slightly overwrought

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 9-11/2008 Sarah Fay
The LA Times A 27/8/2008 Tim Rutten
The NY Sun . 30/7/2008 Adam Kirsch
The NY Times Book Rev. . 18/1/2009 Colin Fleming
TLS . 7/11/2008 Martin Schifino
The Village Voice . 19/8/2008 Marc Tracy

  From the Reviews:
  • "A Manuscript of Ashes, Antonio Muñoz Molina’s debut novel (though not his first translated into English), reads as a primer on his work. (...) Although such ambiguity is central to the novel, this is an intimate tale, one that is not well served by a traditionally omniscient point of view. The most piercing moments arrive as the narrative edges toward Minaya’s own voice." - Sarah Fay, Bookforum

  • "This is a brilliant novel by an important writer unafraid of ideas, emotions and genuine beauty. A Manuscript of Ashes could be pleasurably read out of appreciation for any one of those qualities -- or, perhaps, for the intricately plotted mystery that bears the novel's characters along like travelers on a dark, treacherous river." - Tim Rutten, The Los Angeles Times

  • "As this summary makes clear, Mr. Muñoz Molina is not afraid of full-blooded melodrama. (...) There is something rapturously Gothic about the whole setup, and Mr. Muñoz Molina's prose, as translated by Ms. Grossman, is correspondingly purple. The book is written in incantatory run-on sentences, intoxicated with sensual details, whether the subject is the Spanish landscape or the body of Ines, Minaya's lover (.....) But below the romantic surface, Mr. Muñoz Molina raises more complex questions about history and memory." - Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun

  • "Riddle, sham, requiem, detective story -- Antonio Muñoz Molina’s novel A Manuscript of Ashes is one nasty revenge tale, bound to trip up readers as mercilessly as it flogs its characters. Simply, this is an exercise in psychological horror, a study of how far one man and his accomplice will go to crush the literary ideals of another -- for sport, spite and inspiration. (...) When Muñoz Molina is merely focused on adding to the miasma, his writing can be maddening. The novel is structured like a slackened circle; it begins and ends with the narrator, in the present tense, taking an active role despite his absence from the rest of the story. But Muñoz Molina excels at smaller characterizations" - Colin Fleming, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This wilful elusiveness helps maintain suspense, but the device can be both vacuous and distracting. The grand prose style, too, often feels inlfated rather than inflamed by personal tragedy (Edith Grossman's translation is a little too elegant for the sound and fury of the narrators voice). But A Manuscript of Ashes has an unexpected denouement worth waiting for, and shows moments of technical brilliance which anticipate Antonio Muñoz Molina's mature work." - Martin Schifino, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Parallels between characters past and present abound in the memory-haunted house. Yet Molina refuses to open the magical-realist toolbag and obliterate the boundaries of time. Instead, in dreamy, run-on prose rendered by A-team translator Edith Grossman, he transcribes feelings and recollections, always conscious of what, speaking of Minaya, he calls "the fog-bound area beyond the final reaches of his memory." " - Marc Tracy, The Village Voice

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:

       A Manuscript of Ashes is yet another novel centred around a lost-and-found manuscript. Much of it is set in the late 1960s, the decrepit Franco dictatorship on its way down but not yet out. Minaya, who has briefly been incarcerated and interrogated, uses the excuse of wanting to write his doctoral dissertation about an author named Jacinto Solana to return to Mágina, where he had lived as a young child.
       Minaya's uncle, Manuel, was a close friend of Solana's, and welcomes him into his house and to this corner of Spain where time has almost (if not entirely) stood still. "We're isolated from everything here. We turn into statues", one of the locals observes.
       It is a slightly creepy household, but Manuel is fairly welcoming. He even gives Minaya something to do -- catalogue his books -- so that the young man has an excuse to extend his stay. And there is that seductive young maid -- "Sweet, impossible Inés, a spy, thorn of persecution, alibi for all desire and all baseness" -- with whom Minaya has quite the fling.
       Manuel seems still to be haunted by the tragic death of his wife Mariana, "her forehead punctured by a single bullet", as well as the murder of his friend Solana decades earlier. He also warned Minaya from the outset, that he shouldn't expect much: "I'm afraid you won't find a single trace of his work here, because everything he wrote before his death was destroyed in circumstances you no doubt can imagine."
       But things are not quite what they seem, or how they are presented. There's more to Mariana's death -- and it appears that it is not quite true that none of Solana's writings survive. With the assistance of Inés Minaya unearths quite a bit, and a large chunk of the novel presents Solana's own writings.
       By the end of the novel Manuel is dead and Minaya is faced with an entirely different reading of the past (and hence the present); in a nice turn of events, Minaya turns out to have been both detective and dupe. Muñoz Molina gets carried away with some of his writing, but it -- and the book-within-the-book -- work well enough for the most part, evoking that deadening Francoist period, literary and sexual passion, and simple crime.
       A very literary sort of mystery, it also deals quite well with Spain's awkward history under Franco, and the personal compromises and failures so common in that time. Muñoz Molina does want to do a bit much with all of it -- from the language to his characters to his plot -- but youthful enthusiasm can excuse most of that, and it is certainly a modest success.

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Reviews: Antonio Muñoz Molina: Other books by Antonio Muñoz Molina under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Antonio Muñoz Molina was born in 1956.

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