Ventajas de viajar en tren/ The Advantages of Travelling by Train

BOOK TITLE: Ventajas de viajar en tren/ The Advantages of Travelling by Train
AUTHOR: Antonio Orejudo
READER: Roxana Benavides
DATE: February 2012
SCORE: 41

 

Author/works

Antonio Orejudo was born in Madrid in 1963. He has a doctorate in Spanish Philology and, for seven years, worked as a Spanish literature professor in different universities throughout the United States. He is currently a professor in the University of Almería and has spent a year as a visiting professor in the University of Amsterdam. Fabulosas narraciones por historias won the XX Tigre Juan Prize for the best first novel in 1997, one year after its publication. In 2000 he won the XV Andalucía Prize for Novel with Ventajas de viajar en tren (Advantages of Travelling by Train). Reconstrucción (Reconstruction, 2005), has been translated into German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Korean and Dutch, and the German translation in particular was described as “the year’s most impressive Spanish book”, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Tusquetseditores.com

 

A member of the generation of Spanish authors born in the sixties, exposed to a wide range of literature from around the world, adding a new dimension to their interpretation of Spanish literature with no strings attached. Antonio Orejudo is considered one of the most brilliant contemporary Spanish authors. His narrative is raw and playful with unexpected twists and dark cynical humor for the purpose of entertaining the reader’s interest.

 

There is not greater influence in Orejudo’s Advantages of Travelling by Train than Cervantes’ Don Quixote and his Exemplary Novels: Deceitful Marriage and Dialogue of the Dogs. The presence of a of the manuscript found by chance, the travel as an excuse and the mentally disturbed are some of elements borrowed from Cervantes Saavedra.

The most obvious example of Cervantes ‘influence on his work is in the first chapter of the novel titled “The Deceitful Marriage.” A metafiction, self‐reflexive, repeatedly referring to its own fictional status: “Imaginemos a una mujer que al volver a casa sorprende a su marido inspeccionando con un palito su propia mierda. Imaginemos que este hombre no regresa jamás de su ensimismamiento, y que ella tiene que internarlo en una clínica para enfermos mentales al norte del país. Nuestro libro comienza a la mañana siguiente, cuando esta mujer regresa en tren a su domicilio tras haber finalizado los trámites de ingreso…” (P. 11)

“Let’s imagine a woman who returns home to surprise her husband inspecting with a stick his own shit. Let’s imagine that this man never returned from his trance, and she has to take him into a psychiatric clinic in the north. Our book begins the next morning, when the woman returns to her home by train after completing the admission process…” (P. 11)

Synopsis

After admitting her husband into a psychiatric clinic, a woman returns by train to Madrid. A stranger on board suddenly asks her “Would you like to hear my life story?” He is Ángel Sanagustín, a psychiatrist who works in the clinic. Sanagustín specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders through the practice and study of his patients’ writings, which he carries in a red folder. After momentarily getting off the train to buy a sandwich, Sanagustín misses the train and his red folder is now in the woman’s possession.

Ventajas de viajar en tren, is a fictional narrative, alternating between monologues and dialogues, masterfully full of humor, irony, sarcasm and criticism.

Ventajas de viajar en tren is a novel written as a series of freshly inventive stories in a circular structure, which may be thematically connected, but not necessarily arranged in a logical and temporal sequence. As per Orejudo, it can be read as a collection of short stories or a novel.

As the novel progresses, Orejudo manages to give another twist to the plot, then another story unveils, and another storyteller emerges, keeping the reader on a continuous suspense in search of clues, appealing to our imagination and capacity to believe. Set against this backdrop, questions emerge about the boundaries between reality and imagination.

Theme

The fine line between fact and fiction, reality and imagination:
Ventajas de viajar en tren is a story o series of stories where reality and fiction constantly intertwine and confuse, moving from one topic to another with absolute freedom with its characters and narrators.

In the first chapter the narrator engages the reader, while the psychiatrist Ángel Sanagustín captures the woman’s attention. In a long monologue, Sanagustín narrates three stories about his patient Martín Urales de Úbeda, the protagonist.

Sub-themes/motifs

War orphans

Murder

Child pornography and trafficking of human organs

Croquet

Military uniform

Sanagustín receives a letter from Amelia Urales de Úbeda telling him about Martin, his entering the military academy - like their father. Of his sudden return to home with one armed, after his deployment to Yugoslavia to investigate de murder of female young doctor from Seville. Murdered at the hands of one the orphan kid or so he thought, until he hears the orderly’s stories of child pornography and trafficking of organs. p22-36

Sub-themes/motifs

Drugs and lies

Impersonation

Deception

Sanagustín decides to visit Amelia. She tells him the truth about her brother. Martin was rejected by the army, he is a garbage collector. Attempting to straighten his life up, he moves to Yugoslavia where he falls in love with a young doctor from Seville. In order to not displease his father, he lies for the last time about being expelled from the army. He had falling into drugs, and was being paid with cocaine at his job selling encyclopedias. After stealing some money, he leaves and hides in Madrid. End of deception, there is however a surprising revelation: Amelia turns out to be Martin disguised as a woman. Everything he has told Sanagustín is a lie. p25-36

Sub-themes/motifs

Landfills and Government conspiracy

Male protagonist Death

Martin Urales assures Sanagustín that there is a conspiracy between the landfills and the government to control people by analyzing their garbage. Urales has spent several years locked in his basement, storing the trash to avoid being killed. Sanagustín is skeptical, but Urales forces him to observe garbage collectors at work, both run toward one of the trucks, but Martin trips and ends up falling inside the truck. Sanagustín says he has not seen him since. P37-63

Antonio Orejudo has addressed in his works the demystification of the literary world: in “Fabulosas narraciones por historias” The Generation of 27 and its writers, in “Ventajas de viajar en tren,” the literary critics, readers, and publishers, and in “Un momento de descanso.” the university, academia, philology and literary studies.

In chapter two titled: “Las Personas”/“The People”,- we get to know about our female protagonist, Helga Pato, about her profession as literary agent, and about her marriage to “W”, a famous and coprophagous author now a patient in the psychiatric clinic. It is at her return by train from the clinic that Helda has met Ángel Sanagustín. She is still in possession of the red carpet and the stories written by his patients.

Characteristic of postmodern literature is the desire of the author to explore new realms combining subjects and genres not previously deemed fit for literature. So is the case in these stories brought together under the realm of psychiatry and on the subject of mental disorders:” Coprophilia“, “Post-schizophrenic Depression”;” Paranoid Disorder of the Somatic Type”, and “Akathisia.”

In the last chapter titled “Ventajas de viajar en tren”, we see Helga Pato in her house after returning from the clinic. She is going to Dr. Sanagustín’s house to return his red folder. At her arrival at the Doctor’s house, she is confronted by a stranger who claims to be Sanagustín. A young woman invites her in. Helga tells the couple her reason for being there was to return the red folder to Sanagustín. They show Helga a picture of themselves with Martin, the young woman’s brother.

Martin Urales is a schizophrenic admitted to the psychiatric clinic, but it is free to go as he pleases, and to talk to people as part of his rehabilitation. But all he does is to adopt multiple personalities fooling those who don’t know about his mental illness.

Ventajas de viajar en tren contains allusions to other works of literature, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Rafael Reig’s Manual of literature for Cannibals, Borges and Cortazar and of course others authors from the generation of Orejudo. However, nobody can deny that it is Cervantes’ influence that can be strongly seen in this novel.

The critical response to this novel has been positive. In 2000, Antonio Orejudo won the XV Andalucía Prize for Novel with Ventajas de viajar en tren. It is Orejudo’s most celebrated novel by critics and general public.

He has written other books but Ventajas de viajar en tren continues to be Orejudo’s at his best. As many other postmodernist writers he uses different styles and literary allusions in his writings, which he manages to do while maintaining a fresh and unique voice, that of an excellent storyteller and narrator.

Of interest to the university and academic market, but it will also appeal to the general public too. I highly recommend it.

“A daring, brilliant and masterful jewel.” Juan Bonillo, El Mundo. “An excellent work, full of inventiveness…” Ricardo Senabre, El cultural. “Orejudo’s books appear small on the outside, but they contain much more for the head than they weight in your hands. “ Rodrigo Fresan, Letras Grandes.

 

 

 

 

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