“…one has to be very careful about the objects one places inside a text because they affect the story like magnetic poles, they attract the plot, become potential focal point for our attention, and the same happens in life…”

Mallo’s bold experimental novel plays with content and form, if you are open to that this is a rewarding and thought provoking read; an exploration of life and ideas within the context of the digital age. The first section is a single sentence monologue, part dreamscape, part essay on themes in modern life. The second section is part road trip, part diary. The third section is composed of fragments of detail; random incidents, meanings, definitions, tributes. Finally, there is a graphic tale of a meeting between the author and fellow writer, Enrique Vila-Matas aboard an oil rig. An enigmatic short story that is both related to the rest of the novel and has the effect of an enclosed tale conveying it’s own meaning. Go with the flow.

My assumption is that Mallo sees the novel as a representation of his thought process, seemingly random, untidy and disjointed in its individual pieces but the overall has a unity of purpose, a drive. Imagine you conduct a Google search for something in particular. Then let’s say that that takes you to a Wikipedia page, which takes you to another link, and so on. Eventually, what you are looking at is not what you set out to find but something else connected to a greater or lesser degree – each link connected to another link. It’s a process of reading by exploring, absorbing information, discarding information and Nocilla Lab has that kind of feel to the way it is written. Mallo first muses on coincidence and similarity and begins making links between things and that is the basis for a wide ranging monologue. Again, go with the flow.

This novel is the story of the origins of the Nocilla trilogy (Dream, Experience and Lab), of which this is the third part. Mallo has freed himself from the strictures of linear story telling to imbue this book with the spirit and philosophy of his work rather than some kind of chronological retelling of events. Mallo is a leading light and founding member of a Spanish literary movement that has become known as the Nocilla Generation. One aim of the movement is to create a new and vibrant contemporary Spanish literature that reflects the modern age; the post industrial, computer driven world. Spanish literature has taken a long time to come out from under the shadow and dated conformity of the fascist regime of General Franco. So, the Nocilla trilogy is an attack on the conservatism of form and the old order. This sounds a little scary but you will find elements of Jack Kerouac, John Dos Passos, Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera et al. as you read – this is inventive but not alien. Nocilla Lab feels like a response to the uncertainty of the modern world, it’s a reflection on globalisation and a response to change. I hope we are far enough into the review to use words like challenging, surreal and avant garde without scaring anybody because Nocilla Lab is also beguiling, elegant and intriguing.

The novel has a hyper-real attention to detail (descriptions of precise car models from the distant past for example), a presentation that leads me to believe that this is not about memory or knowledge so much as access to information (technology again). Curiously the vast scope of the book does not distinguish between science or TV adverts in importance, it does not rank factors in life but gives equal weight to each ‘thing’ that crops up in the narrative. A reference to philosophy or literary theory has no more importance than a fleeting consumer obsession. These things are ordered is in the minds of the reader, if at all.

The structure is complex but not confusing and, despite everything I have said, this is an easily read book. It’s a Kaleidoscope of life, this detail from one randomly selected page; Andy Warhol, Voltaire, Deleuze, Guattari, Bonnie and Clyde, and Lancia. The overall effect of reading this novel is like taking apart a thought process, drawing some kind of logical understanding of events/life from examining a wealth of information, some relevant and some not. I loved the discussion of art and science, of literary theory and travel that infuses the novel. Peculiarly, Nocilla is a Spanish form of spread like Nutella:

“I found myself eating a slice of Nocilla- daubed bread that she had made for me and I thought about the fascination I felt for the sludge going around in the concrete mixer of my mouth.”

Sounds revolting, fortunately the novel isn’t. I leave the last word to Mallo, this is his raison d’etre:

“Poetry is every object, idea or thing in which I find the things I would wish to find in poetry.”

Paul Burke 4/4

Nocilla Lab by Augustín Fernandez Mallo
Fitzcarraldo Editions 9781910695272 pbk Jan 2019