'The painting screamed, and they heard it immediately, but it took time for them to catch the whispers.'
Recent reading has all left me feeling like the ignoramus of the century what with Darwin et al, but perhaps in my defence I could suggest that my hand is now reaching for books on these 'great unknowns' to fill the waiting memory chasms left behind since the mental clear out of leaving the NHS.
The sum total of my Guernica knowledge had stuck at the famous Picasso mural painted as the artist's symbolic memorial to a massacre in a Spanish town; massacre by whom, when and why was information that had conveniently slipped beneath the radar.
Enter Dave Boling to sort out the dovegreyreader ignorance and confusion with his splendid novel Guernica, published last week by Picador.
Dave Boling a US based sports columnist, related by marriage to a Basque family and possibly before that who knows, might have known as little as me about Guernica (doubtful), but immersed in the Basque culture and heritage it soon became apparent that here was a story waiting to be told.
I have strange memories of a sunny July Sunday afternoon in Bilbao, cutural capital of the Basque region on Spain's northern coast.
We'd done the Guggenheim and yes, I'll admit we looked normal for Dartmoor but perhaps a bit unusual for Bilbao, shorts, walking boots, rucksacks whilst everyone else seemed to be promenading in their Sunday best.
After a while we both began to realise that every single person in Bilbao was staring at us intently, really intently, very intently and the stare said quite clearly ' you don't belong here'. It was one of the most uncomfortable feelings imaginable and we took refuge in the station to wait for our train to Barcelona.
To this day I haven't really been able to explain that, but reading Guernica goes some way to helping. This fiercely independent people, as Dave Boling explains, have an unwavering loyalty to their heritage and their families, they are passionate and determined and perhaps we had broken the cardinal Sunday dress-code, who knows.
Dave Boling sets the scene by populating his Guernica with a wealth of wonderful and unusual characters, ordinary but incredibly resilient people as he merges history and fiction into a single perspective on a clearly complex political situation. and yet another one not covered in Miss Spencer's history lessons.
Inevitably as I read I quickly learnt what this was all leading up to, the massacre perpetrated by a German Luftwaffe flexing its muscles in readiness for the Second World War.
'For the Basques it was an attack on the soul of their ancient nation; for the world it was an attack on humanity.'
Dave Boling invests such a tragedy with a tangible pulse, a beating heart, adding flesh, bones and blood to the symbolism of Picasso's painting for me which it could be argued has easily achieved the artist's intention of framing the event in an unknowing consciousness like mine. Picasso steadfastly refused to explain Guernica's imagery but I was completely fascinated by the analysis I found here.
One well known and oft-quoted anecdote
During World War II Picasso suffered some harassment from the Gestapo in Nazi-occupied Paris. An inquisitive German officer, coming into his apartment, noticed a photograph of Guernica lying on a table. "Did you do that?" he asked Picasso.
"No, you did," said Picasso.
With his themes of oppression, tradition, community, patriotism and loyalty all flourishing in this page-turner of a book and though I guess the final twist at the end is clearly telegraphed that doesn't detract from the read in the slightest, just kept me turning the pages to be sure things happened as I suspected.
No plans to return to Bilbao dressed like a hiker any day soon but I have come away from Guernica knowing I've read a good book and with a profoundly improved understanding of something of which I knew so little and that has to be a good thing.
Three copies of Guernica waiting to be posted from Picador to three lucky winners worldwide so names in comments and while we're on the subject, last call for entries to this prize draw happening later today and this one happening on Wednesday.