What the literary aficionado is now wondering is what genre should one turn to in order to count the cesspools of corruption and shame that one glimpses when reading the daily news about the recordings, the rinses and the disturbing contacts of the ex-commissioner Villarejo. Crime, the underworld, its connections with the sewers and with the upper floors of the State form a thick material that has been treated above all by theoretically second-order literary genres, the detective novel, the spy novel, or the report of newspaper, which lacks the scruples and conscientiousness of literature enjoys getting mired in the worst dumps. “It is always written mysteriously loaded with chains,” says Cioran. The novelists of the nineteenth were far less careful than their heirs of the twentieth, not to mention the twenty-first, and explored with an unlimited passion for truth and detail the most sordid issues, the rotten reverses of official magnificence. Balzac is like a reporter who stops at nothing. The arbitrariness and venality of the solemn machinery of justice was forever portrayed by Charles Dickens in Desolate house. And our Galdós invented characters from the administrative and political underworld such as Juan Bragas de Pipaón from the Second series of the Episodes, and the cop nickname Sebo who appears and disappears in the last two series.
The clandestine tasks these individuals perform are often variations of the same: hiding mistakes and lies, protecting those in command, persecuting the innocent, crushing the weak, securing the privileges and whims of those who have everything. In the 19th century, the novel was still very close to its plebeian origin, to serial serials that dealt with crimes and revenge by sons of the people who had risen to wealth, such as Edmond Dantès de Dumas. Still in Ulysses there is the jubilant vulgarity and the goo of popular life. But the modernist novel was dignified and refined, and the common stories, the crimes, the crudeness of the political pamphlet were left for other genres, for the chronicles of events in the newspapers, and for a certain current of the detective novel and the novel of spies. It is strange that when the mastery of the Red harvest, by Dashiell Hammett, do not insist further that it is a social novel contained in a genre novel: it is not about a lonely and romantic detective, a knight errant in the manner of Philip Marlowe, but about the machinations of a large company that hires a private detective agency to sabotage its workers’ strike. Long before the newspaper investigations and the leak of the Pentagon Papers made it public, Graham Greene had drawn with astonishing accuracy, in The quiet american, published in 1955, America’s Underground Maneuvers in Vietnam. When literary men of letters want to show their political commitment they become insufferable theorists or preachers. The great political novels of our time that I am passionate about have been written by genre literature masters such as John le Carré and Don Winslow.
Due to a prejudice as unjust as any other, I stopped reading Le Carré for years. He had been a staunch reader of her Cold War novels, George Smiley’s Foggy Worlds, the Berlin Wall, the shadow of the invisible KGB manipulator who had the code name Karla. The fact that it was suddenly sunny and hot in John le Carré’s novels separated me from them: that he had left that territory known and comfortable for his fans and ventured into other geographies, in international terrorism, money laundering, corrupt businesses of global scale. No one is always up to the best of himself. John le Carré will have written less successful novels than others, and perhaps at some point, like anyone with a sense of justice, he will have been carried away by anger and the desire to denounce rather than by his inspiration as a novelist. But in recent times I have read some of his novels from 10 or 15 years ago and I have recovered and strengthened the admiration that I always had for him. Phrase by phrase, his prose is of unerring quality. He has the gift of the revealing and exact adjective, of the precise observation of a gesture, of a nuance of speech. He has a sophisticated talent for weaving plots that progress relentlessly toward outcomes in which surprise is always less powerful than desolation. What John le Carré’s novels that I have been reading haphazardly for two or three years are about the universal horror of injustice, the abuse of state power and the darkness of their sewers, despotism without regulation or regulation. borders of the lords of money and the owners of the world.
But how to tell this other spy, Villarejo, the one with the tape recorder always hidden and running, the one with the cap over his eyebrows and the folder in front of his face, the one with the tight jacket, the one with harsh Spanish speaking, prone to taco and by the nickname, the confidant of journalists with a lot of political posters and elegant presenters of social gossip, the one who gets dirty to do services to people in a gun who later pretends not to know him, the one who can still descend into the stuffy cells of the police stations to treat with those ladies who have the sexual secrets of a king or who devise a strategy between political cunning and crude blackmail so that a certain magistrate and not another occupy a high seat in the administration of justice. What a novel will be like that includes a priest with a badge and a police pistol or a hitman who shows up dressed as a priest at dinner time; or in which the nicknames of the characters are the Fat, the Blonde, the Barbas, the Mustaches, the Asturian; what novelist will have the mixture of good ear and verbal inventiveness to recreate the rogue language of those recordings.
Valle-Inclán achieved something similar, in Bohemian lights and in the grotesque. But literature, by appropriating a degraded language, ennobles it, and thus falsifies it to some extent. You have to leave things as they are. There is no literary text more explosive than the literal conversations of former commissioner Villarejo in the sewers of the Popular Party and of Spanish political life.