Nocilla Dream – Augustín Fernández Mallo (translated by Thomas Bunstead)


Disconnection or connection?

Augustín Fernández Mallo’s debut “novel”, “Nocilla Dream”, consists of 113 brief chapters, a hybrid work of fragmentation, fiction, non-fiction, poetry and space. Most critics have referred to the work as narratively revolving around U.S. Route 50 in the Nevada desert, “the loneliest highway in North America”, however the canvas here is much broader than the activities occurring on “a highway in which, it ought to be stressed, there is precisely nothing. Nothing.” In fact there is something, a central motif, a poplar tree with “hundred of pairs of shoes hanging” from the branches. Shoes that are recycled (you replace your worn ones with ones found on the tree), or shoes that are discarded, the tree becoming a place of connectedness with ones you do not know.

However, the tree of hanging shoes motif is only used, or encountered, by a handful of characters. The book populated with diverse characters from all over the globe.

“Nocilla Dream” uses many external references and quotes about computers, programming, internet networks and complex systems, in fact the opening chapter is a quote from B. Jack Copeland & Diane Proudfoot:

Digital computers are superb number crunchers. Ask them to predict a rocket’s trajectory or calculate the financial figures for a large multinational corporation, and they can churn out the answers in seconds. Bet seemingly simple actions that people routinely perform, such as recognizing a face or reading handwriting, have been devilishly tricky to program. Perhaps the networks of neurons that make up the brain have a natural facility for such tasks that standard computers lack. Scientists have thus been investigating computers modelled more closely on the human brain. (p9)

Using the premise of a global “road movie”, where characters move in and out of focus, it is a work that attempts to connect disparate groups, characters and theories into some coherent whole;

The most important element in any road movie is the horizon; it has to feature sooner or later, signifying something in and of itself; a far off point that comprises the spirit of the film in question. As any number of studies have demonstrated, in European cinema the horizon signifies loss or melancholy; in North American cinema, it’s hope, the magnetizing element for pioneers; and in Chinese and Japanese films it means death. (p47)

A complex web of events that somehow relate to each other, can scrunched up papers, rolling like tumbleweeds through the desert be collected and digested by another? Can an homage to Jorge Luis Borges, made by a man who had lost faith in his fiction, be truly understood by US residents?

It is precisely these differentiators, displayed through Augustín Fernández Mallo’s disparate characters, who populate the whole globe, including micronations, that brings me to the question of connectedness. As a reader, the fragmentary nature of the work, being disconnected from any simple narrative linear approach, forces you to attempt to apply some order.

One way to prevent people from accessing transmissions on the internet is to encrypt them: manipulate the information and make it unreadable so that it will, for the duration of the transmission, be unintelligible. (p108)

Is there a connection between the Chinese surfers and Las Vegas prostitutes, or Mexican truck drivers hauling black beans, or designers of man hole covers and their relationship with a permanent resident of Singapore airport?

‘The past is what we remember of the past, and memory consists of a miscellany of fragments that, now, in the present moment, we stick together, we bundle up. Thus the past does not exist, it only exists in the present emulsification moment, a compositional process governed by its own rules, ones which also make the process part of the present. But if the past doesn’t even exist, how can the future exist? Even more dismaying. (p131)

There is a character who is obsessed with Jorge Luis Borges and the labyrinths of Borges’ fiction occasionally sprang to mind as I absorbed this book. Something more akin to a performance piece, or an evolving fiction that develops on the internet, the book is unsettling, at times incomprehensible, and at other times moving and engaging. Covering such a range of genres, styles I am sure there are many many different personal interpretations. Maybe that is the connection we have in our disconnection?

The shoes in the tree a metaphor for the book itself;

At the moment when the wind gusts in from the south, the wind that arrives from Arizona,…at this moment, this very moment, the hundreds of pairs of shoes hanging from the poplar are subjected to a pendular motion, but not all with the same frequency – the laces from which each pair hangs are of different lengths. From a certain distance it constitutes a chaotic dance indeed, one that, in spite of all, implies certain rules. Some of the shoes bang into each other and suddenly change speed or trajectory, finally ending up back at their attractor points, in balance. The closest thing to a tidal wave of shoes. (p16)

“Nocilla Dream” (published by Fitzcarraldo Edition in November 2015) is the first book in a trilogy, the next two being “Nocilla Experience” (which was published in November 2016 by Fitzcarraldo Editions also) and “Nocilla Lab”. An experiment over three works, one that has engaged me enough in the initial piece to ensure I read at least the second.

Although 113 apparently disconnected chapters, the vast majority deal with connection in some way, relationships, reliance, similarities, and it is through this landscape that balance in the chaos prevails.


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