Fiction: Casillero del diablo

Author: José Carlos Rodrigo Breto
-Ediciones Xorki
-US Release Date: 02-01-2013
-Reviewed by:Jenny Lockington
-Review Release:April 17, 2015

The Spanish title CASILLERO DEL DIABLO, named for a strong wine, but layered with double entendre,  aptly frames  its subject matter—a writer´s struggle through endless alcoholic binges to vanquish writer´s block and insomnia. The narrator begins the exploration/recrimination that leads to his “novel within a novel within a novel” by sharing with a group of writers and spiritualists an oversized bottle of that wine. While he is under its influence, the group introduces him to possibilities of his having lived lurid past lives that affect his present inertia. Tracking coincidences related to those possibilities, involving unpalatable history (Nazi rule) and unsavory personal experience (failed relationships, unspeakable acts), he loses (or finds) himself in a tangled maze of despicable records and recollections across geography and time—the devil’s “wine cellar” or “filing cabinet”—that support his narrative.  Unfortunately, the title does NOT translate into English without annotation, in that the name of the wine and its reference to sorting and storing significantly explain the out-of- control spinning of the writer’s befogged mental and physical states and the story lines they comprise.

In terms of style, word choice, imagery, dialog, and literary devices, the well-crafted writing effectively conveys the bleakness, frustration, and despair that the writer experiences, and illumines the horror and human depravity of the Nazi Holocaust. In effect, the cyclical experiences and juxtapositions--of times, places, events and communications, of connections to literary and factual beings, and of what is perceived under alcoholic or drug-induced stupor versus what actually occurs, if anything—leave the reader in the same state of uncertainty, confusion, disbelief, disgust, and dismay as the novel’s character. Does the writer’s art imitate his life (or someone else’s), does his life imitate art, or both? The reader longs to escape, to breathe fresh air, as the writer, literally and figuratively, wanders underground tunnels and ponders rat-like behaviors. In the end, the spiral of delusion and self-deception that plagues him from past through future leads him to questions the reader shares:  “What is the point?” “Does any of this matter?”  “Has anything been worth the pain?” The answer seems to be, sadly, no. Yet, though the main character and his subject matter are distasteful, the triggered ruminations stay in the reader’s consciousness long after the book’s conclusion.