Sunday, July 21, 2013

A prologue to a non-existent book | In Her Absence

I wouldn't even call Antonio Muñoz Molina's In Her Absence a novella. It's a short story, or even more accurately, a prologue - the entirety of the story takes up so little space and covers so little time, it feels like a grand setup for a different, larger novel. A novel that never comes to fruition.

This has been happening to me quite a bit recently - I'll read a book, it'll be moderately worthwhile but generally disappointing, to the point that I finish it and wonder what I'm supposed to say and do now. What can I possibly say about In Her Absence, other than the fact that it's an introduction more than it's its own story? How long can I discuss the writing (good, but not particularly noteworthy or remarkable)? The clearly drawn characters who ultimately go nowhere? The utter lack of plot that leads to a bizarre and thoroughly open-ending conclusion?

Essentially, yes: I was disappointed by In Her Absence. As a stylistic exercise, I can understand the appeal of this short story - it builds two characters from scratch, presents readers with their lives and backgrounds and flashes of their personalities, all developed between the rather mysterious and inconclusive concept that opens and closes the story. The writing is definitely solid and there are no glaring issues. It's the lack of resolution that made me feel like it's a prologue. I could easily imagine a four-hundred paged novel that uses the entirety of In Her Absence as Part 1, a backdrop to a larger story, the introduction to the characters, the various mysterious plot threads, and a general mood setter. It would work wonderfully as such. By itself, it felt rather empty.

Normally I don't say things like this. Normally I tell longer novels that they need to be shorter. Normally I'll recommend threads of a story be cut down into a slim novella rather than a bloated five-hundred paged mess. I never even knew that I could want a short story to be more broadly developed. I never thought I'd ever hope for less minimalism. What a contradictory feeling...


  1. I can understand that feeling. If it feels incomplete, you want more. I hope you find better-developed stuff next time.

  2. I hate that feeling...when you finish a book, close it, and then feel...nothing special. Usually that, moreso than an intense feeling of dislike, is likely to make me not recommend a book.


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