If it could be said to have one (and it doesn’t), a lone shoe-covered tree standing along the loneliest road in America (US Route 50 in Nevada) would be the polestar of Augustín Fernández Mallo’s Nocilla Dream. If you choose to go down this road, you’ll travel with truckers and prostitutes, artists and veterans, rock climbers and bomb defusers. You’ll check in periodically with a man who has lived for years in the Singapore airport, and a man who designs manhole covers. You’ll read about micronations, Chinese surfers, extreme ironing, transhumanism. You’ll learn that Che Guevara faked his death and was amused to find his own visage on tourist T-shirts in Vietnam.
As the above indicates, the 113 very brief chapters in this globe-hopping novel seem to be about almost everything, and they are remarkable for their fluency and concision. Some condense a complete story into a page or two, others read like highlights from conference papers, and others indeed do draw from the writings of scientists, critics, journalists, poets, and more which have appeared in a variety of magazine articles, newspaper columns, and books. Elements in particular chapters resurface later on in seemingly unrelated chapters and otherwise intersect or overlap in surprising ways. And Fernández Mallo, like an expert juggler, keeps adding more characters (whose separate-though-sometimes-conjoined story lines are revisited periodically) to the mix.
Given the author’s background in physics, I’ve been trying to identify a physical model that best represents the structure and content of this unusual and addictive piece of writing. Is it the fractal, with its intricate repeating patterns? The atomic detritus scattered by particle accelerators in a Hadron Collider? Or maybe something from the world of art, as the book does dabble in such subjects as Land Art, conceptualism, the Situationists, and surrealism? But maybe I’m trying too hard. The model that best captures what happens in Nocilla Dream is the glowing screen that teases me with an inexhaustible hyperlinked world of connection and distraction as I attempt to write this review (and which will likely seduce you away during your reading of it).
Fernández Mallo, a poet as well as a physicist, began writing this book when he was hospitalized in Thailand after breaking his hip. He completed the novel within a matter of months when he returned to Spain, and went on to write two more in the Nocilla Trilogy (Nocilla Experience and Nocilla Lab) in quick succession (Nocilla is a Spanish knock-off of the popular hazelnut spread, Nutella, and the subject of the song “Nocilla, que Merendilla!” by the 1980s punk band Siniestro Total). The books caused a sensation in Spain when they were published in 2006 and 2007, helping to spawn a literary movement now known as The Nocilla Generation.
If you’re in the mood for a wide-ranging, collagist, ensemble novel that mixes high and low culture, the sensual and the theoretical, the scientific and the aesthetic, this will keep you entertained and perhaps slack-jawed. And it will let you know if you’re a candidate for the rest of the trilogy. It’s likely, anyway, to be more rewarding than the hours you’d spend otherwise clicking around on the internet.
Some more detailed reviews of the Nocilla books can be found at:
Los Angeles Review of Books
Music & Literature