Thursday, 1 February 2001
Stephen Marlowe: The Death and Life of Miguel de Cervantes (1991)
Review number: 735
This trendy-at-the-time novel takes the known facts about the life and background of the creator of Don Quixote, adds fantasy and knowing humour (of a style reminiscent of both Salman Rushdie and John Barth) and comes up with an enjoyable story.
Miguel de Cervantes certainly lived a full life. In the Spanish army at the battle of Lepanto, captured by Algerian pirates, reprieved from execution (which begins the novel, hence the title), imprisoned several times, anathematised by the church, write of one of the most famous novels of all time. To this, Marlowe adds a career as a spy, infatuation with his sister, and a mystic mentor - who is the Arab writer whose work the introduction to Don Quixote claims Cervantes translated as the novel. It is a rich mixture, and it is occasionally rather annoying, with various not particularly subtle ironies involved in the narrative.
The novel's main problem is that Marlowe is too conscious that he is being clever. The prose frequently seems to be saying "Look at me!", and this is tiring. In small doses it is enjoyable, and Cervantes is at least interesting to read about.