The first sentence of The Siege in the Room is the most arresting in the book: “Maybe the world hasn’t always been sad.” It’s the opening of Miquel Bauca’s Carrer Marsala, one of three texts translated and gathered by Martha Tennent for Dalkey Archive. It comes out of nowhere, a sentence that can stop a reader dead, like a wall built just past the starting line. Where can a writer go from there? The paragraph continues:
When we say our words are dragged down by inertia, we mean that what we learn as a pup stays with us. The same applies to other things. Girls, for example, use the phone but don’t know its precise function.
Bauca (1940-2005), a reclusive Catalan writer troubled by alcoholism and schizophrenia who believed that the writer should lead a furtive life, placed great, possibly excessive, value on enclosure. Perhaps this was genetic: he explains in a rare biographical note that a memorable part of his childhood was spent helping his father “with his most clearly defined passion: constructing dry walls in order to divide and subdivide the bit of scrubland” his old man owned. Whatever the explanation, Bauca, a self-confessed “apartment hermit,” needed walls. He hid behind them where they existed, erected them where they didn’t, and much of the action in the three novellas collected here—The Old Man and The Warden round out the collection—takes place within the hermetic confines of inescapable rooms in which his obsessive narrators spool out uninterrupted monologues on everything from the mysteries of the female sex to the value of corporal self-punishment. Given this, it’s perhaps not surprising to find that Bauca’s prose is studded with obstacles—“well-laid linguistic traps,” his translator calls them. And not only his prose, as an approach to the writer himself requires a series of detours around unflattering labels. He was called a misogynist, a homophobe, and a racist. He inveighed against Parisians and weathermen. His insensitivity is distasteful, of course, even if somewhat tempered by his obvious mental instability.