x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Books Burn Badly by Manuel Rivas

An exploration of symbolic violence in the Spanish Civil War

Like many before him, the Galician poet and novelist Manuel Rivas has previously sought inspiration in the events of the Spanish Civil War, until now most notably in 1998's The Carpenter's Pencil. This new title, however, is his longest, boldest and most impressive work. Revolving around a little known real-life event - the torching of thousands of books on the docks of Coruña by General Franco's fascist mobs in 1936 - he deftly stitches together an array of narratives, detailing the effects of this symbolic act of violence on ordinary lives.

From boxers and Falangist thugs to homeless bystanders and matchgirls, the repercussions are keenly felt and Rivas's writing crackles from the page. One character explains: "The important thing in life, and in art, is not to bore people." This author never even comes close. Dense, lyrical and studded with crystalline observations, Books Burn Badly is both visceral and elegant. Equal parts historical novel and extended love letter to language itself, its tangled personal stories form a compelling meditation on the power of words and the void their absence leaves behind.