Tomorrow Pamplona : Jan Van Mersbergen

Short, powerful sentences, compact paragraphs, understated emotion. Boxing and Spanish bulls, and even an oblique reference to The Sun Also Rises. But this tale of boxer and family man making their way to the running of the bulls at Pamplona is very much its own beast, and defies the easy comparison to Hemingway.

Danny is a successful boxer fleeing a recent unnamed unpleasantness, while Robert is family man making his way to the bulls of Pamplona as he does every year. It’s here that the story begins, Danny the hitch-hiker and Robert his ride.

For Danny the journey becomes a confession and an attempt to understand; his memories of the events that lead up to the trip are expertly explored in a parallel narrative that is wholly engaging and helps build sympathy for a character who, in his silence, can be hard to like.

It is in the car, sentence by terse sentence, that we get an acute sense of just who Danny is. The dialogue is short, stilted but feels unforced and authentic in its brevity. On occasion poetic in its sparsity.

In contrast to the boxer, travelling companion Robert undertakes the trip as an escape from the monotony of family and office life. With Danny the star of this tale, too little time is spent on Robert and as a character his motives remain murky and ill explained, never completely satisfactory.

The two men travel from Holland, through Belgium, France, to Spain where they aim to face the bulls, and as they drive the parallels between the companions become inescapable. A single man and a family man, a gym bound fighter and a desk bound father. Both look to the running of the bulls for an escape, though neither seems entirely certain of their reasons behind their need to run.

In Tomorrow Pamplona we find a story that delights in hiding emotion beneath the surface, and the rich sentences of this novella are flawlessly rendered in to English by Laura Watkinson.

Van Mersbergen’s prose runs as quickly as the bulls, and we are left breathless at the journey.

Published by Peirene Press



Filed under Review

3 responses to “Tomorrow Pamplona : Jan Van Mersbergen

  1. Nice review. I was also very impressed by the translation. I don’t speak Dutch so have no idea how faithful it was to the original, but it certainly created a clear and consistent narrative voice, and, unlike with some translations, there were none of those moments where you think to yourself, “Hmm, that probably sounded better in the original”.

    • - sociallyacceptable -

      Absolutely. And I agree with your comment about Danny’s relationship with Ragna. The lack of emotion in the scenes is completely in keeping with Danny, but it costs scenes some of the passion they need. But then as a boxer Danny finds understanding in physicality; in the ring, with the bulls, through his fists. In that way the sex scenes are the perfect way for Danny to express his passion.

      So, in keeping with the novella, but as a reader the relationship feels slightly lacking. Either way, small complaints.

  2. Pingback: Too soon to review, to late to stop | - sociallyacceptable -

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