The Rime of the Postmodern Mariner

More ramblings of Rhys Hughes.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Saragossa Manuscript in Albarracín

I bought this book more than 10 years ago but my reading list is so long I haven't got round to starting it until now. Its author Jan Potocki (1761-1815) was a profoundly interesting character with a productive and adventurous life. But his many achievements and remarkable exploits didn't make him happy in the end, as he shot himself with a silver bullet fashioned from the knob of his sugar bowl...

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is the longest book I've read for many years, 631 pages of very small print, but I'm flying through it because the momentum of the story is so great. Actually by 'story' I mean stories, as the novel is a complex interlinking of dozens of separate tales... Some of these tales are extremely strange and not a little daft, exactly the sort of literature I like best, and the colourful characters who relate them are also strange and daft, especially the mad geometer Don Pedro de Velásquez who tries to create a mathematical system to describe all human emotions!

Potocki's writing is somehow naive and knowing at the same time: there are many ironies and tricks. His book reminds me slightly of Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer, which I read when I was younger, but is far superior to it. Potocki is less dry than Maturin and much more playful. I started reading this book in the village of Albarracín and in the surrounding mountains and it was nice to know that I was finally getting to grips with it not far from Saragossa itself, though actually the book is set in many different locations, including the Sierra Morena, the Alpujarras, Madrid, Burgos, Italy, Portugal, etc.