A Day of Anger

Let the Scene Write Itself

I was at work – and I was angry. Somebody else c**ked up hugely, I was left to cope with the fallout and it was just all getting too much.

We all have days like that of course. Some people get so angry on such days that they end sticking the kitchen knife into the person responsible for their misery. (If you ever feel this way inclined, you’d better avoid taking a job in a kitchen – you’ll do much better in life.) I do stop short of knifing incompetent idiots at work but I was very angry so to take my mind of it I went to fetch a glass of water and sneaked a look at the next Everyday Inspiration prompt on my phone. It was, “Let the Scene Write Itself”.

How opportune when I’ve just read a book titled A Day of Anger.

A Day of Anger: 2 May 1808

Like I said above… A day when you’re so angry that you stick the kitchen knife into someone.  When you’ve taken all you could and you aren’t going to put up with any more. When you no longer really care if you’re in the right or not, nor what the consequences will be. When you see everything through a murderous mist of red. A day of anger.

On the second of May in 1808 a lot of madrileños felt this way… and proceeded to act on it. In other words, they went and stuck their kitchen knives into the people who annoyed them.

Those people were the French soldiers occupying their city.

Second of May by Francisco Goya (also known as The Charge of the Mameluks). Source: Wikipedia

The famous painter, Francisco Goya witnessed it all from his balcony and years later painted two pictures, simply titled Second of May and Third of May which now hang in the Prado.

The Madrid Uprising & Its Consequences

The Madrid uprising of 1808 against the French and its brutal suppression became a catalyst for  the Peninsular War.

“I have for enemy a nation of twelve million souls, indescribably infuriated. Everything done here on the second of May was odious. No, Sire. You’re mistaken. Your glory will sink in Spain.”

Joseph Bonaparte, made King of Spain after the Madrid uprising, in a letter to his brother Napoleon

Although in theory allied to Napoleonic France, the Spanish felt more as if their country had been invaded after the French army occupied Madrid and other cities and meddled with the Spanish monarchy. With the few thousand Spanish troops in Madrid confined to their barracks (and deprived of their ammunition for good measure) and the royal family – not a royal family to write home about – under some kind of a house arrest in France, Spanish tempers frayed. When on the second of May news leaked out that the French were about to carry off the remaining members of the royal family, a crowd collected in front of the Royal Palace. Before long, a man in the crowd lost his head, a French soldier was killed and General Murat ordered the Imperial Guard out onto the streets to restore order. The French fired into the unarmed crowd… The rest, as they say, is history – and a book by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

Not one of his best, I have to say.

A Novel… or Records from the Archives?

A Day of Anger by Pérez-Reverte doesn’t read so much as a novel but as a summary of records from the Spanish archives. A list of deaths, mostly. Some French, but mainly Spanish.

José Muñiz Cueto, a twenty-eight year old Asturian, a servant in the inn on Matute square… joined other youths in persecuting a Frenchman…
This is how José Rodríguez, a servant of the Castile councillor don Antonio Izquierdo died too…
In the same street, a little further on, the twelve-year-old boy Manuel Núñez Gascón, who was throwing stones, trying to save himself when pursued by a Frenchman, died of bayonet thrusts in front of the horrified eyes of his mother who saw it all from the balcony.
…and the postman José García Somano, who escaped the volley but died half an hour later, hit by a musket bullet in the plazuela de San Martín.

I could go on. And on.

No, definitely not one of Pérez-Reverte’s best.

THird of May by Francisco Goya. The French execute the captured Madrileneans. Source Wikipedia.
Third of May by Francisco Goya. The French execute the captured Madrilenians. Source: Wikipedia.

I didn’t regret reading it though – in places it was excellent. The description of how the uprising started, the slow build-up of tension in front of the Royal Palace until nerves finally snapped and the killing began is quite masterly. If you ever wondered how riots begin, well, this is how. And then there was the fight of the Spanish artillerymen of Monteleón barracks against superior French forces, the only part of the book which read like a genuine novel – and read well. Finally, the cowardice of the members of the Spanish government (what little was left of it), who ordered the Spanish troops to stay in their barracks and stand by while the populace was massacred in the streets outside by the French army was skilfully conveyed through their conversations.

Sadly all of these great bits didn’t really add up to a great book. By and large Pérez-Reverte was carried away on the wave of patriotism, to be drowned in the sea of historical detail. (I never thought I’d be so critical of one of my favourite authors.) Not a book I recommend to anybody, apart from the Spanish themselves – especially if they are madrileños.

* * *

P.S. Although his description of 2 May 1808 did rather put me in mind of how 1956 revolution in Budapest started… (Cue despairing look from my husband who accuses me of dragging Hungarians into everything. It’s lucky he can’t be bothered to read my blog.)

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