Review: Gasoline by Quim Monzó

In Book Review by Gwendolyn Dawson

gasoline

Reviewed by Gwendolyn Dawson

Gasoline, the Catalan author Quim Monzó’s latest novel to be translated into English, opens at a moment of crisis in Heribert’s career as a painter: he must paint enough canvases to fill two galleries in time for an imminent double show. Instead of working, however, Heribert wallows in indifference and boredom, wandering the city streets, drinking in random bars, and visiting sex shops. As Heribert’s career stagnates, another younger artist — Humbert (bizarrely, almost all characters’ names begin with the letter ‘H’ in Gasoline) — steps in to take advantage of Heribert’s artistic and romantic slump.

Gasoline explores the joys and pitfalls of creativity and obsession, alternating whimsy and humor with dark moments of doubt. Heribert’s dilemma is both heartbreaking and absurd, causing the reader’s feelings towards this unhappy artist to vacillate between pity and derision. During one bleak scene, for example, Heribert attempts to turn on every light and appliance in his house to drown out his sorrow over his estrangement from his wife. The touching scene shades into absurdity when Heribert is thwarted in his noise-making by a cassette player that refuses to play both the radio and a cassette tape at the same time, leading Heribert to conclude that the machine is nothing but “a lie.”

Gasoline is a sensitive portrayal of artistic creation and its often unstable personalities. Half cautionary tale, half tribute to the limitless capacity of the human imagination, Gasoline is both provocative and entertaining.

Gasoline is published in the United States by Open Letter and will be released on June 8.

Gwendolyn Dawson is the founder of Literary License. Her reviews appear here and there regularly.

About the Author

Gwendolyn Dawson