NWR Issue r14

Review of novel ‘Sol a Lara’ by Tony Bianchi

Gwen Davies reviews the mystery novel Sol a Lara by Tony Bianchi, published by Gomer. A novel full of fantasy and intrigue about the effect one person's life may have on others, power games between the sexes & the pathological troping of past failures. Directed and edited by Ieuan Jones, Produced by Sian Roberts. New Welsh Review's multimedia programme is sponsored by Aberystwyth University.

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Gwen Davies reviews the novel 'Sol a Lara' by Tony Bianchi, published by Gomer from New Welsh Review on Vimeo.

Transcript of Audio Review and translations from the Welsh by Gwen Davies

Welsh-language novel Sol a Lara by Tony Bianchi

Forty-something Lara is a bit of a Walter Mitty. She has plenty of meaningful work as a nurse and a few close friends; she also acts as carer to her elderly mother. Yet much of her time and the best part of her motivation is preoccupied with interchangeable fantasies, of sexual relationships that lead her into sustained self-deceipt and (possibly) breaking the law.

We know much less about Sol, except that he has certainly broken the law at this novel’s outset, having suffocated his girlfriend’s baby and fled the scene with a large sum of money owed to a partner in crime.

The central trope of Sol a Lara (Sol and Lara) is a holiday romance on the Costa del Sol between Lara and Gruff, a shop assistant from her west Wales hometown. If it ever happened, Gruff and Lara’s fling stalled on their return home, the end coming most probably in the garden, possibly as the couple undertake one in a series of DIY projects that Lara uses to regulate the men in her life (she also buys them preppy clothes). Could Gruff himself have ended up under the patio pots? Increasingly, as nice-as-pie Lara obsesses about Gruff’s failure to reciprocate and starts to co-opt Sol as Gruff’s rival in her romantic home-improvements empire building, we wonder where the truth lies. Could this filial paragon and NHS angel actually be a dastardly match for ID thief Sol?

‘Perpetual troping’ is a term coined by Geoffrey Hartman (drawing on psychoanalysis and literary practice) for how individuals and literature process traumatic memory, creating a ‘kind of memory of the event, in the form of perpetual troping of it by the bypassed or several split (dissociated) psyche.’ Though Hartman, in an essay called ‘On Traumatic Knowledge and Literary Studies’ in the journal New Literary History, was discussing Blake, his description of ‘traumatic knowledge’ sheds light on Sol a Lara’s techniques and themes, including the repetition and elaboration (‘troping’) by Lara of her holiday experience (back its original trauma):

‘The theory holds that the knowledge of trauma, or the knowledge which comes from that source, is composed of two contradictory elements. One is the traumatic event, registered rather than experienced. It seems to have bypassed perception and consciousness, and falls directly to the psyche. The other is a kind of memory of the event, in the form of perpetual troping of it by the bypassed or severely split (dissociated) psyche. On the level of poetics, literal and figurative may correspond to these two types of cognition. Traumatic knowledge, then, would seem to be a contradiction in terms. It is as close to nescience as to knowledge. Any general description or modeling of trauma, therefore, risks being figurative itself, to the point of mythic fantasmagoria. Something “falls” into the psyche, or causes it to “spilt”. There is an original inner catastrophe whereby/in which an experience that is not experienced (and so, apparently, not “real”) has an exceptional presence.’

It would appear that Sol, even as the perpetrator of violence, has experienced deeper trauma than that of Lara, whose original hurt, it is suggested, arise from a domineering father. And yet it is with her problems that we are concerned, and it is one of the many sources of humour in this black comedy, that Lara’s sessions with quack counsellor Haval Reis reveal nothing of her dysfunctions and no cures aside from rehearsing laughter, to which metaphor I ascribe the meaning, within this narrative of middle-aged womanhood, ‘getting more sex’.

Even though this, Bianchi’s seventh novel, like many of his others, is concerned with presenting death as a ‘hapless’ event easily preventable through the intervention of others, it is not death, but sex that is a major theme. And even though it seldom really, physically, happens, as can happen in life: the thinking about it is more erotic than the doing. Here, with my translation (as with the concluding quotation), the author writes sublimely through the prism of female sexuality, warped by women’s magazine stories but still in working order:

Ceisiodd Lara wneud llun yn ei meddwl o’r dynion i gyd, y gang wrth eu gwaith, yn driilo a morthwylio a llifio, a Gruff yn eu canol, yn plygu dros ei fanic, yn tynnu pensil ar hyd ymyl y pren mesur, a’i fraich chwith yn noeth, yn galed, yn gwahodd ei bysedd. Symudodd y pren mesur draw ychydig bach. Aeth hithau’n nes, a chyffwrdd â’r blew tywyll, prin cyffwrdd â blaenau’i bysedd fel na theimlai Gruff ddim byd. Tynodd yn ôl wedyn. Cofiodd mae lle i ddynion oedd hwn.

Lara tried to picture all the men, the gang at work, drilling and hammering and sawing, and Gruff in their midst, stooped over his bench, ruling a crisp line, his left arm hard and bare, inviting her touch. He nudged the ruler. She went closer, felt the dark hair with a touch so light Gruff wouldn’t feel it. Pulled back then. Remembered this was a man’s world.

But this novel’s main subject is fabrication, fantasy, art. I return to Geoffrey Hartman: ‘[Traumatic knowledge] recasts, in effect, an older question: what kind of knowledge is art, or what kind of knowledge does it foster?’ Our knowledge as readers is that chief-fabricator Lara is herself a fabrication, as much as was Walter Mitty or the heroines of Northanger Abbey and Emma Bovary. This art shows that fear of intimacy, and love of control and violence are not the preserve of men alone. And that writing itself can be a compulsive, dysfunctional act.

Nodiodd Lara ei phen. Meddyliodd am y tad a’r fam a laddwyd. Ar ei gwaethaf, gwnaeth lun yn ei meddwl o ben y tad yn cael ei rwygo oddi ar ei ysgwyddau, a cheisio dychmygu ble y cwympodd, ai yn y car ynteu ar yr heol y tu allan. Dychmygodd ymateb gyrrwr y lorri. Dychmygodd y gwaed yn pistyllu o’r gwddf. Dychmygodd y syndod yn llygaid y pen disgorff.

Lara nodded. She thought about the father and the mother who’d been killed. Despite herself, she pictured the father’s head being ripped from its shoulders, and tried to imagine where it fell, whether it was in the car or on the road outside. She thought how the lorry driver might react. She imagined blood spurting from the neck. She imagined how surprised the eyes in the bodiless head would be.


previous multi-media: Review of novel Saith Cam Iolo by Aled Evans
next multi-media: Review of short story collection Jwg ar Seld by Lleucu Roberts


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