Each story proves insufficient to fulfill its ambition, as reality is “impossible close to, so vast and rich that no one can tackle it on the basis of limited knowledge.” Palol’s storytellers are haunted by the specter of completion, a beguiling impossibility shimmering somewhere in the crowd of voices.
The translator Adrian Nathan West translates Palol’s Catalan into baroque, eloquent English. (The mention of a second translator, Damien Wraith, a 666-year-old photographer of eroticism and translator of incantations, only deepens the book’s mystery.) For all its self-reflexive qualities, readers expect the po -mo mega novel will be disappointed. Instead, the varied themes and tension arrangements of this intellectual mystery seem to exist outside of any specific time or genre. Science fiction, classical philosophy, futurism, high culture and pornography are wrapped in an elaborate, almost Jamesian elegance. Hidden in the heady formalism is a finely calibrated – and eminently readable – fiction.
The novel’s size (nearly 900 pages) and complexity eludes easy summation. There are several red herrings. Evocative parallels and unlikely synchronicities abound. The entire disastrous sequence is triggered by the death of Alexis, pater familias of the Cros clan, whose passing creates a power vacuum at Mir Bank. His daughter, the beautiful, abstract Lluïsa, marries a former associate of her father’s to cover up compromising information that could endanger the bank.
The many figures that surround the Cros family – con artists, artists, intellectuals, technologists, petty criminals, society types and many others – are drawn to a jewel that the bank allegedly owns. Part priceless ornament, part demonic heirloom, the jewel may or may not exist, though several characters die trying to find it. (It has been variously described as “a principle of physics, a scientific or philosophical discovery capable of changing the course of mankind… a computer program, perhaps.”) It is suggested that the jewel, whatever it may be are the cause of the apocalyptic events from which the narrators so recently fled.
The connective tissue between these global conglomerates, secret cults, corporate strongholds and political operatives is Ω, cool, collected, seemingly omnipotent, “as powerful as Satan himself.” His guiding hand is everywhere, an instigator of power so great it could be mistaken for fate.