The Blind Man of Seville by Robert Wilson

In the opening pages of this tour-de-force, Javier Falcon, a Spanish homicide inspector in Seville, is called to the scene of a murder: a man bound and gagged, his eyelids removed and forced to watch . . . what? Falcon cannot get the scene out of his mind and throughout the novel, he never recovers his equilibrium. The identification of the victim eventually leads to a connection with Falcon’s own father, a famous, recently deceased painter whose house now belongs to Falcon himself.

If this were the extent of the novel, it would be a fine piece of writing: a psychological battle of wits between an emotionally deteriorating detective and a twisted killer with his own logic and motives. But Wilson gives us, in glorious decadent detail, the unread journals of Falcon’s father, and it is this thread from the past, interwoven with the present, that turns the novel into an exceptional piece of literature. In an author’s note at the end of the novel Wilson explains that half way through the writing of the novel, he realized he needed the journals of Francisco Falcon, the detective’s father; and took three months off from the novel to write them.

The novel is set initially in Seville, Spain, but Falcon moves freely around the country, tracing the history of his murder victim and his own father, and following the thread of his father’s journals, to Tangier. Wilson, an Englishman, is obviously at ease in both English and Spanish, interspersing Spanish phrases throughout the novel. These only add to the ambience of the setting. Most can be deciphered through context though it would be useful for the discerning reader to have a Spanish dictionary at hand.

Falcon’s father, in the execution of the will, directs Falcon to burn the entire contents of his studio: the unsold paintings, his journals, and a cache of money. Falcon disobeys as anyone with the psychological makeup of a detective would, and they lead him to discoveries that push his psyche close to the boundaries of sanity. The title of the novel is ironic here; we must wonder who the “blind man” referred to in the title actually is. Maybe the victims, but perhaps also Falcon himself who finds the illusions of his childhood and his life stripped away. At the end we are not surprised when Falcon does, indeed, carry out the last wishes of his father.

At the time of this publication (2003) Wilson had published six novels, including the celebrated title, A Small Death in Lisbon, and more since. I’m not sure there’s anything better for a book

Copyright 2010 by Toby Heaton

This entry was posted in Reviews & Interviews. Bookmark the permalink.