The Private Life (Vida Privada) – Josep Maria de Sagarra

Book Review

In 1932, Sagarra tasked himself with writing the great “Barcelonan” novel.

The Private Life came under heavy censorship during its time (1932), and was printed only in a “scrubbed” version under the Franco regime in the 1960’s. Even today it pushes the envelope of “acceptable” practices and societal norms.

The story is a gritty tale about the demise of the Barcelonan aristocracy with a heavy focus on the fictional Lloberola family. Once respected aristocrats, the novel follows their trail into financial ruin and moral bankruptcy.

The reader is swept through the barrios and alleyways of Barcelona. From exquisite residences to well visited brothels. We meet the cast of characters, the patriarch; Don Thomas, and his depraved sons (Guillem & Fredrick), and all their various lovers: and the children of Frederick who after being neglected are wild and promiscuous.

The novel is a satire. It’s clear that Sagarra was not a fan of the failing Catalan aristocratic class. He makes it abundantly clear from the onset of the story that the Lloberola family is on rapid downward spiral. None of them are likeable. By the end – you’re basically cheering for their demise.

The secondary characters are much like the Lloberola family. So you are scant of empathy for anyone.

Don Thomas & Fredrick are portrayed as weak, selfish, and not very bright. Guillem is a cunning manipulator who craves financial and sexual domination.

Sagarra is one of the most descriptive writers I’ve ever read. His attention to detail is brilliant. He masterfully weaves a vivid plot full of family scandal, dark secrets, sordid affairs, suicide, murder, and revenge. He even throws in a threesome and a wee bit of S & M.

At times, Sagarra goes down a wordy rabbit hole when describing a characters inner thoughts. But his descriptive style is so clever and intriguing – the wordiness can be overlooked.

If someone had caught Dorotea’s smile at the moment she closed the door. He would have been hard put to say whether it was the smile of an experienced mother-in-law leading the newlyweds to their bedchamber after the wedding dinner, or the smile of an imperial executioner who would sew a man into a sack with a rooster, a serpent and a monkey.

How brilliant is that paragraph?

Even though the writing is a bit antiquated; the central themes are still relevant. The story is definitely tongue-in-cheek enough to transcend through the ages. It’s also a bit of lyrical genius. However, the characters are completely unlikeable which for me is a negative. Personally, I love to gel with at least one character.

About

Josep Maria de Sagarra, 1894-1961, was as Catalonian poet, novelist, and playwright from Barcelona.  He published his first poems at the age of 12. He went on to publish volumes of poetry, dramas, essays, and three major novels. 

He is considered to be one of the most important writers of his time, and The Private Life has been credited as an “essential piece of 20th century European literature”.

Rating

7.8/10

 

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