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Everything Passes, Everything Remains

Review by Charlotte Luke

by Charlotte Luke

Chris Dolan
Saraband (2021) £9.99

Chris Dolan’s Everything Passes, Everything Remains, subtitled ‘Freewheelin’ Through Spain, Song and Memory’, opens with a warning against pigeonholing the book as a standard memoir. “Believe me,” writes Dolan paradoxically, “this is not a reliable record”. While writing this review I have often found myself typing ‘novel’ by mistake, instead of ‘memoir’ or ‘book’. Dolan continues along these lines by telling us that the contents of his book are based on nothing more than his own “precarious” memory; had he kept a diary, he assures us he would have filled it with lies.

This initial set of provisos contrasts rather mind-bendingly with the formulaic presentation of the work. There are maps, tables, and an array of different fonts and headings and sections. Yet its narration is chronologically all over the shop, something Dolan expresses beautifully in his preface: “Journeys are never what they seem, or what you expect. In 2019 my head was often in 2000, my friends’ in 1978 or 2017, while reading about 1830, singing an old 1969 hit and discussing 1936”. It is certainly not your average travelogue; its leaps across time, space and the blurred lines of memory versus reality give rise to a thoroughly enjoyable odyssey through the Spain of the 1970s, the 2000s and the 2010s.

The adventures and misadventures of Dolan and his friends as they cycle through Spain, whether made up or otherwise, convince the reader that it does not particularly matter, really, whether the anecdotes and circumstances of the trips are completely accurate. Indeed, Dolan often argues with himself, and his friends, over what is true and what is not. We are, instead, trusted to see the bigger picture. The universal truths behind the stories are people, places, music, geography, and the transcending of borders.

The visually eclectic 275 pages are divided into sections, which are often preceded by poetry by Seamus Heaney, accompanied by the Spanish translation. The work is loaded with references to the history, culture and politics of Spain and Scotland, which come whenever something Dolan has seen or heard on his travels jogs his memory. This gives a wonderfully vivid impression of the cyclists’ journey; three friends having a lovely time, busking in town squares, chewing the fat, and commenting on whatever comes into their heads next.

Laurie Lee, in whose footsteps Dolan treads, is a constant spectre throughout the work, to an extent that unfortunately verges on the irritating. Virtually everything Dolan encounters is compared to what Lee would have encountered on his travels through Spain decades before; he tells us that, during his 1970s trip, “the toilets I used were like the ones Lee would have”. Meanwhile, the recurring image of both Lee and Dolan venturing out with little more than a fiddle under their arms is just a shade too rose-tinted for my liking. Dolan is, for the most part, fairly knowing about the dangers of over-romanticising the past, but I am not convinced he is always aware when he does it.

His despair over the current political situations surrounding Brexit, the Catalonia question and Indyref, chimes interestingly with discussions about Franco’s Spain and the Glasgow of Dolan’s upbringing; however, for me, the book’s strength lies in the anecdotes about the people and places he encounters on the road. They are funny, touching, often very sad. When politics is added into the mix, some of the transitions between introspection and description can be a little jarring. However, his descriptions of modern Spain, with its disappearing villages and divisive politics, tug at heartstrings closer to home. We are all, despite the periodic rubbishness of the world, in the same boat. For me, that is what this book is all about.

Northwords Now acknowledges the vital support of Creative Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
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