Sometimes a book lures you, says ‘read me’ in Alice in Wonderland fashion, and it’s not clear why. This happened to me with The Book of Invisible Bridges, by Xelís de Toro and translated by John Rutherford. It was on the Pighog Press stall at the poetry book fair a few weeks ago. I tried to ignore it, went away but had to go back.
Every page is different. There are poems, very short stories, monologues, definitions of imaginary words (“Morsage: Clothes drying in the wind before the storm”), statements, photos of handwritten scribbles, blank pages for your own work... Some things are printed sideways or upside down, which makes reading them feel like accessing a slightly different dimension. Everything is bilingual, with parallel texts, Galician and English. The translation feels very natural, while at the same time conveying a strangeness surely there in the original (which is accessible to readers of Spanish). At the back are reproductions of artwork inspired by the text, and there’s a DVD with more of these.
I’m not sure how to explain why I like this book. I think it’s something to do with the diversity of forms the writing takes, coupled with the consistency of voice. Plus the variety of subjects and approaches, never knowing what will come next, like Alice – but everything bound together by that strange, dreamy yet precise voice.
One page consists of these four lines, in both languages, at right angles to each other, afloat on the white space of the page. The English text ought to be rotated through ninety degrees, and floating above the Galician.
Estiven a piques de falar I was about to talk
mais calei but I kept quiet
e o silencio falou and silence spoke
porén ninguén escoitou. but no-one listened.
The reader is invited more or less explicitly to participate, or imagine participating. One part of ‘Complete fragments with instructions for reading them’ starts like this (it’s prose, in short lines as there are two columns per page, which gives the reader more space to take in the text):
‘I started out on a journey to learn
how to walk’
(Look for a track or path, preferably
bordered with grass. If this is not
possible, any combination in which
the surfaces of the path and of
the adjoining land are different.
Remove your shoes or boots and
place them on the path, one in
front of the other as if they were
all that is visible of an invisible
walker. Stand by their side,
parallel to them, outside the path,
with bare, parallel feet…)
A poem called ‘The Art of Hatred’ includes these lines:
With the stone of your home
I will build a wall
to stop you seeing
what is beyond it..
Underneath is a photo of a whitewashed brick wall, with graffiti on it saying:
WITH THE STONE OF
YOUR WALL I WILL BUILD
AN INVISIBLE BRIDGE
TO TAKE ME TO YOU
The short-story fragments are enticing, mixing the surreal with more or less coherent narratives. There’s a whole novel somewhere in this extract from ‘Description of three things that are not there (that are really four)':
Clouds. A suitcase. A telephone.
A kiss. In the breeze. Breeze.
A sea-breeze. The police are going
to come. I never did anything. I am
an intellectual. Please forgive me.
He did what with whom? A military
boot. An order to keep quiet. A heat
wave. Interference on the radio.
Another country. Another. A torn
sock. Torn. Torn sock. Another torn
sock. Socks. Another torn sock….
I quite like some of the art, but the text does far more work – the pictures in my head are much stronger than those on the page. The latter presumably represent pictures in the artists’ heads conjured up by this Rubik’s cube of a book, which you can play with, juxtaposing different pieces of text, puzzling meanings out, or not.
The Book of Invisible Bridges by Xelís de Toro and translated by John Rutherford is published by Pighog Press.