The Things We’ve Seen

Agustín Fernández Mallo

Translated by Thomas Bunstead

French paperback with flaps, 488 pages
Published 24 March 2021

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In The Things We’ve Seen, his most ambitious and accomplished novel to date, Agustín Fernández Mallo captures the strangeness and interconnectedness of human existence in the twenty-first century. A writer travels to the small uninhabited island of San Simón, used as a Franquist concentration camp during the Spanish Civil War, and witnesses events which impel him on a wild goose chase across several continents. In Miami, an ageing Kurt Montana, the fourth astronaut who secretly accompanied Neil Armstrong and co. to the moon, revisits the important chapters in his life, from serving in the Vietnam War to his memory of seeing earth from space. In Normandy, a woman embarks on a walking tour of the D-Day beaches with the goal of re-enacting, step by step, another trip taken years before. Described as the novel David Lynch and W. G. Sebald might have written had they joined forces to explore the B-side of reality, The Things We’ve Seen is a mind-bending novel for our disjointed times.

‘Mallo’s imagination never falters. To stay with him means loosening all limitations we might wish to impose on a text. The reward is an audacious adventure…. This is, indeed, a dream of a book.’
Declan O’Driscoll, Irish Times

‘Echoes, implosions and coincidences soon make us feel we are circulating in a single space-time of displacements and substitutions. Shapes, for example, repeat in different scales or contexts: the reservoir in Central Park has the outline of Iberia. The most bravura example of this form of paranoia – signs everywhere – is given to a Dalí avatar who establishes a connection between the Twin Towers, the twin girls in the corridor of The Shining, the two columns of the pause icon on a screen, and (the narrator’s later input) a line in one of Lorca’s New York poems. It stays with you.’
— Lorna Scott Fox, New Left Review

‘[A] fascinating experimental [novel which evokes] the ways the past is layered upon the present by a narrative technique of juxtaposition and adumbration—by adjoining or stacking together starkly different stories. The Things We’ve Seen is preoccupied with the sensation of multiplicity…. Echoes connect the stories’ portrayals of isolation and unexpected collisions, but nothing is straightforward. Mr. Mallo has said that he was inspired by David Lynch and Salvador Dalí, and there is undoubtedly a surreal, unconscious quality to the motifs that defies interpre­tation … a unique work that captures an uncanny aspect of the lonely but bewilderingly overpopulated contemporary experience.’
Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

‘These past fiteen years Agustín Fernández Mallo has evolved a method in which, owing something to Borges and perhaps early Nicholson Baker, troubled narrators’ outlandish events draw seamlessly upon everything around them; on the page, advertising hoardings, the screen or mind, these fragments are shored against their ruins, catching our world in its present flux.As these pages knit together, conspiracy theory meets the recondite (mud’s multiple benefits being “both a proven contraceptive and, when ingested in high quantities, capable of engendering mystical experiences”). These pages have a similar spirit to Flaubert’s Parrot, The Debt to Pleasure and The Anatomy of Melancholy – a challenge well met by the translator, Thomas Bunstead.’
Christopher Hawtree, Spectator

‘Mallo delivers another work of postmodern, Dalí-esque surrealism with this mind-bending novel…. Throughout, Mallo’s prose is enticing—at times conversational, exhilarating, hilarious, and deeply quirky. If a through line emerges, it’s in the ideas, which revolve around the trash heap of postwar wreckage and consumption (the writer calls New York a “temple of detritus”). Out of this trash, Mallo has crafted a remarkable work.’
Publishers Weekly, starred review

‘Fernández Mallo, the de facto leading light of an avant-garde literary movement known in Spain as the Nocilla Generation (so-called for the author’s own Nocilla Trilogy, 2015–19), writes here in a manner that variously recalls, references, evokes and invokes the writings, aesthetics and thinking of W. G. Sebald, Carl Hiaasen, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Georges Perec, Octavio Paz, Ben Lerner, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jorge Luis Borges, Edward Hopper, Giorgio De Chirico and many others, and yet that remains entirely his own in its final assembly and presentation.’ 
— David Terrien, ArtReview

‘[An] unconventional work … a writer fascinated by the present state of the human condition, beset by the rapid onset of the internet, social media … a novel of breadth, variety, and texture.’
Daniel Baksi, The Arts Desk

‘In much the same way, Agustín Fernández Mallo’s latest novel in three parts, The Things We’ve Seen, sets the mind racing with blurs and glitches—periodic and perturbing reminders of just how malleable our reality, both past and present, can be in the hands of an expert … In a book so full of repeated sounds and pictures, I found myself beset by a phrase I heard last year, in a virtual lecture by Judith Butler via the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid: “The dead should not be left to bury the dead.” … Similarly, The Things We’ve Seen reminds us that, like the writer on the island, the fourth astronaut, and the wandering pilgrim, we are duty bound to summon the ghosts of the past, whether through technology, art, or pure imagination. In doing so, we all take our place in the network.’
Maddy Robinson, Asymptote

‘Mallo’s book reminded me of an essay by the late John Berger on the prehistoric art of France’s Chauvet Caves. Perhaps these inscrutable yet present echoes from our common ancestors are language’s missing link, reminding us through Mallo’s pages that “…the living and the dead, proceed together in the same universe.”’
Oisin Harris, The Publishing Post

‘An astonishing piece of literature from Spanish author Agustín Fernández Mallo … Spanning different horizons, a dreamlike state punctuates The Things We’ve Seen, leading to questions about whether events are actually occurring. An ambitious, impactful and clever book, one which may be beneficial to read as three separate books to soak up the language.’
Rhiannon Holley, Buzz Magazine

‘There are certain writers whose work you turn to knowing you’ll find extraordinary things there. Borges is one of them, Bolaño another. Agustín Fernández Mallo has become one, too. This novel, which ranges across the world and beyond it, is hugely ambitious in scope. It’s a weird, recursive, paranoiac, funny, menacing and thrilling book.’  
— Chris Power, author of A Lonely Man

‘Charmingly voracious and guided by fanatical precision and wit, Mallo ties the loose threads of the world together into intricate, charismatic knots. This is the expansive, omnivorous sort of novel that threatens to show you every thought you’ve ever had in a new and effervescent light, along with so many others you couldn’t have dreamed.’ 
— Alexandra Kleeman, author of Intimations

‘Some great works create worlds from which to look back at ourselves and recalibrate; The Things We’ve Seen takes the world as it is and plays it back through renewed laws of physics. Rarely has a novel left me with such new eyes, an X-ray view of the present.’ 
— DBC Pierre, author of Meanwhile in Dopamine City

‘The most original and powerful author of his generation in Spain.’ 
— Mathias Enard, author of Compass

The Things We’ve Seen confirms Fernández Mallo as one of the best writers in Spanish, with an absolutely unique style and fictional world.’ 
— Jorge Carrión, New York Times in Spanish

‘A strange and original sensibility at work – one that combines a deep commitment to the possibilities of art with a gonzo spirit and a complete absence of pretention.’
— Christopher Beha, Harper’s

Agustín Fernández Mallo was born in La Coruña in 1967, and is a qualified physicist. In 2000 he formulated a self-termed theory of ‘post-poetry’ which explores connections between art and science. His Nocilla Trilogy, published between 2006 and 2009, brought about an important shift in contemporary Spanish writing and paved the way for the birth of a new generation of authors, known as the ‘Nocilla Generation’. His essay Postpoesía: hacia un nuevo paradigma was shortlisted for the Anagrama Essay Prize in 2009. In 2018 his long essay Teoría general de la basura (cultura, apropiación, complejidad) was published by Galaxia Gutenberg, and in the same year his latest novel, The Things We’ve Seen, won the Biblioteca Breve Prize. In 2022, he was awarded the prestigious Eugenio Trías Essay Prize for La forma de la multitud. The Book of All Loves is his fifth book with Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Thomas Bunstead was born in London in 1982 and currently lives in west Wales. He has translated some of the leading Spanish-language writers working today, including Maria Gainza, Juan José Millás and Enrique Vila-Matas, and his own writing has appeared in publications such as the Brixton Review of Books, LitHub and the Paris Review. He is a former co-editor of the translation journal In Other Words and is a Royal Literary Fellow at Aberystwyth University (2021-2023).