Soap opera with cd attached

E. Jane Dickson deplores a multi-media marketing event
The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel, Chatto, pounds 15.99

In the future, when the Net Book Agreement is as quaint and remote as the Corn Laws, all books will be like The Law of Love. The Latin American writer Laura Esquivel hit paydirt in 1990 with Like Water For Chocolate, (now a major feature film) and is taking no chances with this latest venture. The Law of Love is not so much a novel as a multi-media marketing event. The heart-sinking combination of science fiction and magic realism is further enlivened with great wedges of cod philosophy and emetic sex. And for that untapped sector of the reading public who find traditional novels rebarbatively bookish, there are pictures to look at and music to listen to. (A CD of the book's "soundtrack" is tucked into the dustjacket.)

The theme of the novel is the perfection or the human soul through reincarnation. Our plucky heroine Azucena is an astroanalyst, a term which is left to the luckless blurb writer to explain as "a sort of highly evolved psychotherapist who ministers to the karmically challenged using music to reacquaint her patients with their past lives." Azucena is so highly evolved that she has no need of character definition, motive or believable speech patterns.

Indeed the entire novel has the ring of a Latin American soap opera dubbed into English in a Hong Kong basement. "Come on," rails Azucena at a less evolved minion, "You must think I'm some sort of idiot, right?"

To be fair, Azucena has had a tough old time of it, pursuing her "twin soul" Rodrigo from 23rd century Mexico City to the ancient empire of Montezuma. Her picaresque passage through time and space is so dizzyingly complicated that Esquivel thoughtfully provides regular updates. "She couldn't take any more," we are told, at an especially bewildering juncture. "She had received too many blows in too short a time. She had lost her twin soul, had been on the verge of being murdered [by a power crazed politician posing as the reincarnated Mother Teresa], had been forced to undergo a soul transplant, had discovered the murder of a close friend, had witnessed her beloved body occupied by an assassin, and finally, had found Rodrigo in a place that was for all practical purposes out of reach."

What is a girl to do? Fortunately, Azucena's Guardian Angel, Anacreonte is on hand with gobbets of New Age wisdom. "Hatred" he points out, "is forever hunting down a refuge, poking its nose where it shouldn't, taking over sites reserved for others, invariably forcing out love. And Nature, which unlike the Gods, insists upon order, to the point of neurosis, you might say, feels the need to got into the act."

And so it goes on, page after page of incontinent and impenetrable claptrap. You are almost grateful for the storyboard cartoons by "Spain's premier graphic artist, 'Migualanxo Prado'" and the musical interludes (mushy recordings of Puccini and traditional dantones). You can't help feeling, however, that Chatto and Windus have spoilt the ship for a hap'orth of tar. Why not follow through with a scratch 'n sniff panel (Esquivel has a particularly joyless obsession with farts) or maybe a vacuum wrapped enchilada and ready mixed margarita? But this is a counsel of perfection. Not so long ago, writers would put themselves and their readers through the slog of conjuring sensory perception from the printed page. With this easy-to-use, book-style entertainment package, Esquivel has put an end to brain-engagement misery for ever.