THE EPIPHYTIC LIFE – 2013 Winner of the IV Edition of the
“Good books don’t give answers, what they do is raise a lot of questions. And this is a good book.”
Carmen Posadas. Writer
“A good novel that keeps the tension up right until the end.”
Germán Gullón. Literary critic
“Borja Campo Alange’s first novel represents the “birth” of a talented writer.”
Ronaldo Menéndez. Writer
“The epiphytic life, the first novel written by Borja Campo Alange, is a literary work that leaves no one indifferent.”
Leticia Audibert. Journalist
“Although it is a novel of intrigue and love, in essence, The epiphytic life deals with human frailty, the ease with which we fall in revealing and unexpected faults, as well as their consequences. Moreover, it is about accepting responsibility as part of the necessary premises to enforce a fair relationship. It is possible to retrieve undertaken actions or act on past events? (…) At a second reading, we can appreciate better the nuances of the story. It is no longer necessary to continue moving forward to find out the solution of the game –which is chosen from the possible solutions of the moves– and we can take a better look at the roadside. The novel appears then full of tributes, cultural references and various issues of literary interest that graze the core of the plot. (…) These samples –flashes, rather– of lives close to the three main characters of the crux of the narrative which is based on the relationship of the Count with Cecilia are presented in a short space of time. The climax could also be theatrical, with dense dialogues that add generic complexity to the novel. A complexity of genres that also includes poetry, especially in the measured conception of the plot and the expression.”
María José Alonso Seoane. Professor of Spanish Literature
“Because it is, indeed, a very well built novel of intrigue and patient love, wonderfully written, in a decorous and limpid Castilian which is no longer common, and even, almost what is known as a crime thriller, or something like that. The characters arouse interest from the beginning of the plot that Campo Alange develops most skilfully. There is no surplus dialogue nor excess description. Everything is measured as in a poem. In other words, it is the novel of a fully-grown author. (…) It is not the moment for missing a good novel, and The epiphytic life is a good one. (…) It stands by itself, without the need of those crutches that critics often put when they have nothing good nor bad to say.”
José María de Montells. Writer
2013 Winner of the IV Edition of the Premios Atlantis “La isla de las letras” [Atlantis Awards, “The island of letters”]. Crime novel.
2013 Finalist of the I Premio de cuentos Tres Rosas Amarillas [I Prize of stories Three Yellow Roses], in charge of the jury chaired by Eloy Tizón.
Borja Campo Alange or the authenticity of fresh air, by Juan Van Halen
I have often discovered that the convoluted genius Jean Cocteau’s thought that “young people know what they don’t want before they know what they want” is not absolutely true, and this is why I tend to pay particular attention to those young people who know what they want and pursue it. Recently, I wrote about Gonzalo Manglano, a novelist I have followed closely and with great care from his first pages, and today I pause on Borja Campo Alange, another young novelist who we must not consider a promise but rather a reality.
It will soon be a year –it was on the 19th October 2012– since he presented his first novel, The epiphytic life in the more than one hundred-year-old Association of Spanish writers and artists. The presenters of that literary launch were Carmen Posadas and I. Borja Campo Alange will soon celebrate his thirty-fourth birthday and he enters literature with numerous readings well assimilated, experiences in various countries, enthusiasm and dedication. The sin of young literary talents is usually dispersion, turning many tiny lights on but failing to follow the light. This is not the case with Borja. He knows where he is going. He works on what he believes because he believes in what he works.
I was attracted to The epiphytic life by its maturity –unusual in a first novel– by the smartness of its language –carefully-crafted and elegant– and by its control of the narrative tension. It is read in one sitting. The title, somewhat surprising at first reading, takes us to a human version of epiphytic plants, to the person who needs the support of someone else without parasitism. The novel tells a story in which love, intrigue, feelings of guilt and liberation intertwine in a very successful formal grading, whose wickers include cultural and literary references, and a beauty that, without a doubt, is a reflection of the preferences, the author’s life baggage.
Over the structural whole of the plot lies the weight of a secret that feeds and gives meaning to what clearly happens and also to what is left up to the reader’s interpretation. Reading, and perhaps even more so when it comes to a novel, is complicity between the author and the reader. As readers, we give an appearance, a face and a figure to the characters that, in some way, we create together with whom encourages their literary existence.
There is poetry in this novel. Poetry in the length and the caress of the words, in the rhythm of the sentences, in the fitting of what is said to how it is said. If the poem is condensation and nudity of words so that they aren’t left out nor added unnecessarily to raise the idea, there is poetry in this novel. Furthermore, there is an excellent contribution I would dare to consider close to play-writing in the opportunity and treatment of dialogues, so difficult in a novel, that fit like a puzzle and in which there is no word in excess, no repetition, and therefore, no fatigue. The dialogues fit easily in the plot without the need of a chisel, like a gentle caress.
The epiphytic life is a wonderfully written novel which, in spite of being contemporary, is capable of getting rid of certain curses that usually trick our young novelists. It isn’t coarse in any of its situations, doesn’t let itself be driven by vulgarity, and runs away from “canons”. It flies on its own and follows, without fissures, a personal formula. Borja Campo Alange doesn’t let himself be carried away by trends, and this implies an undeniably wise decision. Pierre Cardin told me many years ago in Paris that “fashion is what goes out of fashion”. And this sentence, undoubtedly cynical said by a fashion designer, could not be applied to part of our contemporary literature, which is handcuffed to fashion without assimilating that fashion fades. Galdós or Valera, to give just two examples, weren’t concerned nor occupied by fashion. They were themselves. And still are. Often, I have written about it more than once and did so when analysing Gonzalo Manglano’s work, our contemporary literature, like Loch Ness, celebrates its monsters rather than its beauties.
The characters of The epiphytic life are well defined; they’re not made of papier mâché. The Count, Cecilia and Feliciano Azcona, the three main characters that carry the weight of the narration are “alive” for the reader. It is a story of undeclared love, a clean story, of closeness, generosity and devotion. All in reference to a harm suffered in the past, a feeling of guilt in the conscience of the one suffering that will constrain him for life. The positive tension in the relationship of attentions, mystery and culture that holds Cecilia back from a future she desires yet, at the same time, fears. It is a non-consummated love, unpassionate, that doesn’t allow salacious scenes which we often have to endure in the literature of our young authors. And, despite being romantic, it isn’t a “soft” novel, a sin in which the novels that are tagged as “romantic” often fall. It portrays true love, full of feelings, resignations and, in the background or all around it, the ethics charm and its reflection in this relationship where feeling beats interest, fraud or appearance.
Many years ago, in a review of my book Crónica, Manuel Alcántara defined my poetry as the result of a certain “blood adventure”. Borja Campo Alange, who is himself and demonstrates his originality in The epiphytic life, carries the blood of María Campo Alange, writer, founder of the Seminar on women’s studies, pioneer of intellectual feminism in Spain, previous to the French writer Simone de Beauvoir, who was Vice-president of the Ateneo de Madrid and a contributor to D’Ors, Ortega and Marañón. We could speak of our young writer as a link in this “blood adventure” chain.
A novelist with his own way of understanding narrative emerges from The epiphytic life; a novelist who runs away from current trends and begins a journey that I foretell as fruitful. Amongst so much literary forgery, Borja Campo Alange represents the authenticity of fresh air.
“The epiphytic life walks along subtle meanders about the ethical boundaries and their consequences in romantic relationships. The distressing difficulty of making decisions that affect third parties and that turn us into prisoners of our past…”
Ángel M. Roger. Director of the Spain’s Royal School of Dramatic Arts
“…entertaining, elegant and interesting… Borja Campo Alange has written this book with such meticulousness and deep analysis of the characters that it grabs you from the very first page.”
Josemi Rodríguez-Sieiro. Journalist
About uncertainty, by Alfredo Taján
A brief reflection on The epiphytic life by Borja Campo Alange
Uncertainty drives crazy or kills, or both. In human relationships, to establish uncertainty as a principle is to place the head of the beloved under the guillotine. It is only a scoundrel who maintains that grief and that constant betrayal over the reflection of its love coin. Hence, it is not without reason that Borja Campo Alange’s novel is titled La vida epifita or epífita [The epiphytic life] (from the Greek epi –over– and phyton –plant–), that life which, like a plant, grows over the surface of another life, of another plant, without getting its food from it nor being a parasite, but only surviving from the humus that deposits on its roots. Orchids, for instance, are classified as epiphytes, also known as air plants, for they never take root in the soil beneath. These beautiful flowers don’t have their feet on the ground, summarizes Borja Campo Alange, and points out a truth that is sometimes forgotten, which is outlined by the saying: “Love can kill”.
The quote by Sándor Márai which the author has chosen is also quite relevant: “A human being –writes Márai– is capable of killing another human being if he doesn’t let him go, but doesn’t allow him to get too close either…”. It is precisely on this quote that Borja Campo Alange bases the plot more than the story line of this short novel, or as Unamuno called them “nivolas”, in which the two main characters –an engrossed aristocrat and an odd woman without a past, cold and taciturn– have a relationship of mutual attraction but marked by deep chasms, profound abysses, communicative powerlessness; an epiphytic existence, that is, dependent, built with silences, fateful chiaroscuros; a liaison which hides a murder, the secret of a witness, the need of a moral quest to abolish the enigmas that prevent crystallizing and unravelling a crucial event, almost forgotten in the almanac of memory, many years ago.
La vida epifita or epífita [The epiphytic life] is a novel that is to be savoured. It is written with the inspiration of a good storyteller and flavoured with cultured and enlightened grammar truffles, with the love for books, for reading, for beautiful objects; all that frame, that panoply, which was formerly used in good narratives, and which we miss so much currently, even when we read bestsellers that make bestsellers of the seventies into masterpieces, let alone bestsellers of the fifties, turned into real incunabula. Admittedly, this novel is not a bestseller; let’s hope so in terms of sales, although it certainly doesn’t intend to sell its truth at a reduced price.
Because just as the Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t consider purity as a form of torture, many human beings believe, unexpectedly, that pain gives prestige. But nothing could be further from the truth. Pain and purity operate against wisdom to such an extent that the so-call objectivity of the contemporary novel is but rejection and envy of the structure, of the good practice and the critics which, in spite of its magic, was an extension of the spirit of Enlightenment, Voltairean, sarcastic, slightly fussy and heterodox.
I will stop here. The role of presenters should be based on silence. It is my intention to make the author speak and, to this end, I want to raise a number of questions to him which are all very difficult to answer (just kidding). However, before giving way to the questionnaire, I would like to add one last appraisal: this novel exudes an atmosphere of shyness, landscapes in which uncertainty regarding the ultimate reason of existence is transferred, maybe an extreme diathesis, a correct purgatory or, on the contrary, an amendment.
Perhaps for this reason, and the ambiguous denouement, The epiphytic life solves, as a myth, the simple quality of being, a lifetime battle which would be very difficult to reach without compassion, without a renewed faith in metaphysics and miracles.