El complot para matar al Presidente / Manuel Caballero

The Conspiracy to Kill the President

The conspiracy to assassinate the President exists, it’s in progress and taking place at least in the fears of the men in the Palace.

Why is this novel by Israel Centeno (El complot, Alfadil, 2002) so disconcerting? In order to explain this to ourselves, we begin with what’s always easier for the lazy: its classification. It is a uchronia; what the dictionary defines as a logical construction adapted to the story of something that hasn’t happened, but could have or might in the future.

The conspiracy to assassinate the President isn’t something that has occurred in reality, but if we pay attention to the warnings, to the fears, to the terrors, to the escapes, to the bullet-proof vests, to the security circles and other such nonsense, it exists, it’s in progress and taking place at least in the fears of the men in the Palace.

A scene. Which is to say, those who suffer these fears could label this novel with another classification: it’s a simple intelligence report, the base for what the pedants and other political scientists would call “a scene.”

We could also say, with all the bad intentions in the world, that it’s a novel of anticipation, an immediate anticipation. Finally, one could, maximizing the mania for classification, say that this is a realist novel.

Israel Centeno’s text impresses us with its masterful ability to immerse itself in reality without being conquered by it. There is, throughout the text, not the least concession to the present such as it might be conceived, for example, by a reporter: the author knows how to establish here the indispensable distance between his fiction and reality, which makes this a novel and not merely an imaginary report. But neither does it distance itself from that reality (or perhaps it’s best to say, from this present) so that the novel becomes a simple game around something that hasn’t happened and will never happen.

My disorganized eagerness. By saying that El complot is a disconcerting novel, I should add that it would be much more if my disorganized reader’s eagerness hadn’t taken me years ago to a series of Irish writers, among them playwrights (The Undertaker, whose author’s name escapes me). Those texts describe the unending spiral of violence in which the characters find themselves immersed.

Of course, and this is seen still in a great part of the Irish situation, violence is a bull that once it’s released is nearly impossible to reign it back in, and sometimes it’s never achieved. The characters in Israel Centeno’s novel don’t just live with violence, they live for violence. There’s no way of escaping it, because they only know one way of life, and thus only one way out: death, given or received.

But it’s not just that, but that the worst hatred isn’t against the evident enemy, but rather against one’s own comrades and friends, always suspected of being actual or potential traitors. This is how Sergio and Gloria don’t escape by shooting their way out from the presence of the identified and hated enemy, but rather shooting against their own friends who are no longer useful to the cause, or who are simply in the way.

They remind us of Chesterton. The problem is that it’s a process that never concludes, and deep down, these tragic characters remind us of those described in a loose tone by Chesterton in his The Man Who Was Thursday; a group of revolutionaries who weren’t that at all, but undercover policemen. In the end, they weren’t spying on anyone but themselves, and if Chesterton had been of a different disposition, they would have eventually, like these Centeno characters, killed one another. Ultimately, as well, and without wanting to laugh on a stage where so much blood has been shed, there is something else that joins Centeno to Chesterton’s tradition: his entire text employs a subtle irony, mocks the frightened and mocks the obsessed, it mocks the ambition for absolute power.

Relatedly, Centeno’s novel takes us to Orwell, to the Vargas Llosa of The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, because it too is, in his own very personal manner and with a nervous but clear style of writing, a bitter reflection on maximalist utopias. The serpent biting its own tail that they all become.

Do these characters have a destination? Yes: Centeno has reserved for them a refuge in that type of valley of the shadows where they will never know whether they’re living on this or that side of dreaming, on this or that side of death; where they will live maybe forever the life they’ve always lived: in the provisional, in the no-tomorrow.

I must conclude pointing out something that’s also impressed me in this novel by Centeno: the transparency of his prose, that continues to astonish in a text that, because of its topic and we might say its currentness, must have been written in a very short time and very recently.

Translator’s note: El complot has recently been translated into English and published as Israel Centeno, The Conspiracy, translated by Guillermo Parra (Pittsburgh: Sampsonia Way, 2014).

{ Manuel Caballero, El Universal, 28 July 2002 }

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