|THE NEW REVIEW|
Review on the Independent website
The curtains open. A man is born, is not happy, and dies. The curtains close. What’s the name of the movie? I could not find a better line to start the review of this novel, and it comes from the novel itself. Spanish writer Rafael Reig has cooked a delicious winter stew which will easily warm up your heart and your head alike. As in a stew, one must take many different ingredients –vegetables, meat, seasoning…- so as to, combining them, create a rich and healthy dish. A dish with fundamento. So Reig has skilfully combined in ‘A Pretty Face’ several topics and genres: a glass of thriller, a few spoonfuls of intimate novel, a good shot of comedy and a sprinkle of science-fiction, to narrate the story of a lady in her thirties who is murdered in the first pages of the novel. What starts as a Dashiell Hammett story turns out to be a moving reflection on a young woman’s meaning of life and place in the world.
Intangible, invisible, inaudible and insipid, as she defines herself several times along the book, María Dolores Eguíbar –or Lola Líos, the writer-, is the witness of her autopsy, of her burial, of the bereavement of her parents, of her husband’s treason and even of the discovery of her murderer from a dead person’s point of view. And, following in the footsteps of classical picaresque novels, she does so with a sidekick called Benito Viruta, a fourteen-year-old in a state of permanent erection and a very bleak vision of the world –a Spanish Kevin, so to speak.
. The sprinkle of science-fiction comes from the fact that the novel takes place in a city of Madrid flooded with water, where boats have substituted cars because the world has run out on oil, and Spain is now a satellite state of the American Federation –USA-; where Spanish language is hardly spoken any more and the official language is English. In this futuristic-humoristic arena, Reig has, however, infused his main character, Lola, with highbrow reflections on contemporary Spain which are in everyone’s lips these days, including the media: the obsession with fame and celebrities, the women murdered by the hands of their partners or husbands –a truly worrying problem in nowadays Spain- or Reig’s sixties generation, doomed by a lack of expectations:
We’ve been the first generation for whom attaining the same standard of living as our parents was not a real expectation but a wild, almost laughable ambition.
But what really shines throughout the book is the powerfully honest and lyric monologue of a woman who feels a great deal after her death, and feels it exactly as if she was still alive and kicking, but cannot share it with anyone.
Have I been happy? What difference does it make…
The only time when reading becomes uncomfortable is when the author alludes to Lola’s marriage break-up and the out-of-love story, because one feels that Reig is telling us about his own very personal story more than he probably needs or wants to:
The day arrives, however, when you bend down to get a pan and on standing up you hit your head on the door of the glasses cupboard. If the first thing you think is it’s your husband’s fault, that he’s left it open again, then the marriage is already dead, the love’s evaporated and there’s nothing to be done.
Paul Hammond’s translation is extraordinary: he rolls English language –as in a Mexican burrito- to wrap it around Reig’s Spanish discourse, a colloquial yet deeply poetic prose. Hammond bends, twists, turns and whisks English language to be able to serve the purpose of the streetwise prose of Reig and not, as is usually the case, vice-versa.
Can Reig be called a streetwise writer? A writer that does not write for posterity? A writer that does not aspire to the Nobel Prize, a straight faced writer who asks himself some serious questions about the meaning of life not even expecting to find an answer in his novels?
Who is out there, watching me live? asks Reig in the middle of ‘A Pretty Face’, through Lola’s invisible lips. And who is out there, watching Reig write? Does he like the idea of being spied upon? When he decides to make a writer of books for children the protagonist of his novel, he is reflecting on the art of creation –writing-, yes, but he also seems to dismiss in his alter ego, Lola Líos, who is an unambitious writer, the excessive accountability we sometimes attribute to Literature, with capital L.
So if finally transpires I’m a writer […] The authors bore us with so much fraught hackwork and with telling us ‘how one gets to become a writer’. We know it by heart: the years of suffering, the sacrifices, the lack of understanding, the faith in oneself, the solitary effort and all the rest.
This topic, the real relevance of writers and the writing process in today’s world seems to have been a fashionable topic in Spanish literature in the last few years, or perhaps I am only putting some of my words in someone else’s mouth –or pen-.
And I feel like finishing with a little dessert; ‘A Pretty Face’ is a liquor filled chocolate: looking at it from the outside, one cannot anticipate the sweet and surprising core inside. Reig, who belongs to the ‘wasted’ sixtie's generation –me, too- has, as a writer, adopted what he thinks is his generation’s motto: to live in ones’ own name, individually, without belonging to collective history or, later, work, luck and silence. So far, it has proved to be a winning bet.
Reproduced with permission
Raquel Morán was born in Asturias –Spain- the last year of the sixties, and she is so grateful to Mum and Dad for it. She studied Geography at the University of Oviedo and she went to London in 1996, officially, to study History; unofficially, to become a ‘serious’ writer. Eleven years on, she is still living somewhere in London with her partner and her daughter. She earns her living teaching French and Spanish to unruly secondary students and she is still trying to forge a steady and sound career as a ‘serious’ writer. She does write mainly in Spanish, her mother tongue, and so she considers herself an heir to Cervantes, Cortázar and Vargas Llosa, among others. She is currently in the process of self-publishing a novel titled Apolo y los centauros –www.trafford.com- and she is also working on her fourth novel, No Smoking, which will be completed, hopefully, before 2010. Hopefully.
|A PRETTY FACE
(Serpent's Tail 2007)
Reviewed by Raquel Moran
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