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University of Nebraska Press


The subprime collapse, the Global Recession, and the Eurozone crisis have given rise to an entire subgenre of crisis narratives in literary and visual arts, attempting to make sense of the human aspect, causes and outcomes of the largest non-war economic commotion in the West since the Great Depression. In Spain, the last two novels of Rafael Chirbes (1949-2015), Crematorio (2007) and En la orilla (2013)1 have distinguished themselves for an insightful view and poignant reflections on the real estate boom and bust, which defined the economic and cultural parameters of Spain after the democratic transition. Here I will call this period the Brick Age.2

As a metonymy, the Brick refers here to a series of interrelated factors, economic developments, social changes, evolving cultural attitudes, and substantial alterations in visual landscape and the environment, which took place in Spain from the mid-1980s to approximately 2010. It takes after the so-called "fiebre del ladrillo" or "Brick Fever," i.e. the construction boom starting approximately in the late 90s, defining an economy largely based on real estate development and related sectors, including tourism, along with the rapid, unsustainable economic growth it fostered, supported by the gradual imposition of neoliberal ideology and policy by the right and its implicit acceptance by the traditional left.

In the following pages I will produce a brief account of the Brick Age as a historical process in two phases, underscoring the ties of the boom and bust economy with a culture of corruption. Having established this context, I will proceed to introduce Chirbes' novels, justify the need for a joint analysis, [End Page 405] and discuss the concepts and imagery that seek to account for the political, cultural, and moral context intertwined with the economics of boom and bust during the Brick Age.


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