"I'm easily hurt by some things. And I cooked you dinner...And for what . . . For you to throw it right back in my face...And what's so bad about being soft like a woman? Why is it men or whoever, some poor bastard, some queen, can't be sensitive too, if he's got a mind to? ... if men acted like women there wouldn't be any more torturers"
Thus the reader enters the strange world of this...novel...play...multi-genre text...whatever you want to call it.
I read this book for the first time a year ago in a brilliant class that had an amazing syllabus, and yet I was just taken with this one. I wrote my final paper on it which I was stoked to submit to my professor on the same day Argentina passed comprehensive rights for trans people, which is important because MP was Argentinian (although he had to live in exile for much of his life) and this text features a trans woman (although most literary theory refers to her as a homosexual male but that is because most literary theorists are wrong.) MP never uses the word trans because it was published in 1978, but with today's understanding of trans folks it is very obvious. I liked the text so much and felt that there was still so much left to write about that I picked it again for my final project for my Gender and Lit class.
Structurally, it's really interesting, and if you like books with weird structures then this is worth it just for that. The first half of the novel is completely dialogue between two characters, much like a play, but without any stage direction. It's not until page 17 that you even discover where the setting is (prison) and not until much later that there's a reference to Buenos Aires, where the prison is located. Also, there are no names used except when the characters call each other by name which means that sometimes it's hard to trace who is saying what, particularly because MP writes what is said but also what is not said. He loves the ellipses of silence. In the second half of the novel, other genre get introduced including interview recordings, memos, notes, reports, and some occasional glimpses into inner monologues when our two characters are ill. Also, the book makes EXTENSIVE use of footnotes that are explaining nothing directly stated in the text. The footnotes mostly pertain to real and fake scientific/psychological explanations for homosexuality, and they are spread throughout the text in a way that feels haphazardly although there are plenty of scholars who will tell you exactly why they are where they are. If you liked that bit of Junot Diaz's "Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao", then you'll probably like it here.
Content wise, it's really interesting, and if you like books that deal with Marxism, political prisoners, gender identity, trans women, sexual orientation, or old movies, then this is absolutely worth it for that. Yes, I said old movies. A huge part of the text is comprised of Molina telling Valentin the plot lines for various movies as entertainment, and you will get the whole plot. Again, they are spread throughout the text in a way that feels haphazardly although there are plenty of scholars who will tell you exactly why they are where they are. If you liked that bit of Mario Vargas Llosa's "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter", then you'll probably like it here.
You'll notice that JD has a Pulitzer Prize, MVL has a Nobel Prize, and no one has ever heard of MP. What's up with that? Maybe the world still isn't ready for bisexual Argentinian expat authors who aren't afraid to push boundaries. I look forward to reading more MP and hope that he is rediscovered by the general reading public. Of the seven texts I have read so far this year, this is the one I would be most likely to recommend to anyone to read.
The movie version was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and William Hurt did win the Oscar for Best Actor. Seeing the movie doesn't replace reading the text, but it's also worth a viewing and I'm looking forward to rewatching it as I write my paper.