A Pretty Face, by Rafael Reig, trans Paul Hammond
Spain goes Anglo
Friday 07 September 2007
The cast of characters includes a dead narrator, Maria Dolores (Lola), author of children's stories that include her afterlife companion, the one-eyed Benito; her Nobel prizewinning medic ex-husband Fernando, obsessed with fame and lies; her erstwhile father, Juan José, the psychiatrist responsible for devising K666, the drug to end all drugs (and Alzheimer's too); Carlos, a junkie who teaches Maria the meaning of death; and Charlie Clot, gumshoe extraordinaire, whose conclusions are even more extraordinary than his cases. The plotline mixes them all in a kaleidoscope of mutually incompatible loves and narratives, and the timeline starts with a murder and continues moving back and forth through life and afterlife.
This, briefly, is some of what A Pretty Face is about. The dystopian future arrives on the eve of the new millennium, when Lola is murdered, the US has annexed the Iberian peninsula and "Anglo" becomes the lingua franca. The streets are the Wild West of the new era, haunted by zombies – the drug-crazed of their own twilight world – and crime is survival, even if only in the twilight (oil supplies having become exhausted) of the half-living. On the other side of death, Lola's pretty face and plump body transforms into ghostly slenderness as she seduces her brainchild Benito. Yet she remains frustratingly obsessed with untying the knots that bind her to father and husband, and with tying another one, that between heart and mind.
Rafael Reig's own background in philosophy and - perhaps - his career as a lecturer inform both this and his previous Spanish bestseller, Blood on the Saddle. Here each chapter opens with a conundrum such as : "It was a flash of lightning, we all saw it. Carlos Viloria lived zigzag style; afterwards we stayed waiting, sure it'd be repeated, but blackness was all we saw". Intertwined with such speculations is a mood that captures much of what Madrid was about in earlier decades, when Almodóvar was not yet a name on a chain of cine-bars. La Movida hadn't got moving and the city is on the cusp of two coups: the abortive Spanish putsch of 1981, and the fictitious takeover by US forces in 1999. It emerges with the character of a sinister and dyspeptic uncle.
What the novel that packs so many punches lacks is a comprehensible translation. The text is littered with obscurantist expressions at once far too literal and too far from the sharply-honed original. Why "the transom of a bar", "the zinc of a bar" then "the bar of a bar"? Why "do doctorate studies" to become "a psychiatrist from vocation"? Where's the editor to rescue the mangled English, or is this really all the Anglo language can now manage?
Amanda Hopkinson is director of the British Centre for Literary Translation, Norwich
A Pretty Face is available from Serpent's Tail - £8.99 (181pp) (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Not suppost to cry': 9-year-old lists the worst things about being a boy
- 2 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 3 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 4 Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
- 5 Largest ever study into the gay gene 'erodes the notion that sexual orientation is a choice'
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Angelina Jolie confirms retirement from acting: 'I've never been comfortable on-screen'
Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
Willow and Jaden Smith talk duality of apples, holographic realities and the melancholia of the ocean in incredible New York Times interview
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
'Muslims pre-date Columbus in discovering America,' says Turkish president Erdogan
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Former Tory PM Sir John Major says 'we would not have an NHS without migrants'