Review of the book «Crematorium» by Rafael Chirbes.

“Crematorio” is a novel by Rafael Chirbes, published in 2007, which delves into the ins and outs of the Spanish financial system during the real estate bubble of the 90s and early 21st century. Through the eyes of the protagonist, Rubén Bertomeu, and his family, the novel presents an implacable criticism of the corruption, greed and speculation that characterized the period of economic growth in Spain.

Crematorium, by Rafael Chirbes, is a novel that crudely and lucidly portrays the reality of the Spain of the real estate boom and the outbreak of the economic crisis. Through the voices of several characters, the author shows us the contrast between the idealistic and revolutionary past of some and the corrupt and desolate present of others. The central axis of the plot is Rubén Bertomeu, an unscrupulous builder who has amassed a fortune by speculating with the land, destroying the landscape and associating with the Russian mafia. His brother Matías, a former communist militant who dedicated himself to agriculture, has just died and his funeral serves as an excuse to bring together the other characters: Silvia, Rubén’s daughter, an art restorer who lives in a unhappy marriage; Juan Mullor, Silvia’s husband, a professor who writes the biography of a failed writer; Ramón Collado, Rubén’s former partner, who feels betrayed and humiliated by him; Mónica, Rubén’s young and ambitious second wife; Traian, the Russian gangster who provides him with dirty money; and Federico Brouard, the alcoholic writer and friend of the Bertomeus.

Crematorium is a choral novel that does not have a linear plot or an omniscient narrator, but is composed of interior monologues, dialogues and third-person fragments that alternate the perspectives of the characters. Chirbes’ style is direct, harsh and uncompromising, capable of creating powerful and suggestive images with a precise language rich in nuances. The novel is not only a social and political critique, but also a reflection on the meaning of life, death, art, literature and memory. Crematorium is a masterpiece of contemporary Spanish narrative, which anticipated with a prophetic vision the problems that afflict our current society.

The plot of the novel takes place in the fictional city of Misent, on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, where the Bertomeu family owns a construction company that has made great profits thanks to real estate speculation. However, the company is bankrupt and the family has to fight to maintain their status and business.

The novel uses a choral narrative, which intersperses the voices of several characters, including members of the Bertomeu family and the company’s workers. Through these characters, Chirbes explores themes such as economic inequality, political corruption, and the dehumanization that results from the pursuit of profit at any cost.

Chirbes’ style is realistic and detailed, with precise and careful prose that focuses on the description of landscapes and everyday objects. The author uses language in a raw and unadorned way, which reflects the harshness of the reality he presents. Additionally, he uses technical and specialized language to describe the real estate industry and business management, which adds credibility and verisimilitude to the novel.

One of the main strengths of “Crematorium” is Chirbes’s ability to portray complex and multifaceted characters. The Bertomeu, for example, are a dysfunctional family struggling to maintain their public image, but at the same time they are victims of their own greed and lack of scruples. The novel also includes marginalized characters, such as the company’s workers, who suffer the consequences of the economic crisis and lack of opportunities.

In short, “Crematorium” is an impressive and moving novel that offers a scathing critique of corruption and real estate speculation in Spain. The novel presents complex and realistic characters, and uses raw and precise language to describe the social and economic reality of the country in that period. It is a work that invites reflection on individual and collective responsibility in building a more just and equitable society.


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