Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Man of My Life, by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

Review of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Man of My Life

This is Montalbán's tone: disappointed melancholy. The same people who had lost the Civil War, then fought to defeat the dictatorship, lost the democracy. Not only were they still at the bottom of the heap, but now their memories were trashed: "The bulldozers had torn down his childhood cinemas, his childhood schools, his childhood neighbours".

Do not think that Montalbán's books are just gloomy, leftist treatises on defeat and a happier past. The Carvalho mix is funny, too: the detective is scathingly witty about the powerful. He is an original eccentric, burning books and cooking all night. The novels are peppered with recipes and descriptions of feasts.

The Man of My Life is a novel of the millennium, with murder now wrapped in religious passion and Satanic cults that have replaced Communist parties. However, the real Satanists are not the weird sects of lost children, but the same crooks as ever: capitalist society that ravages its victim-members for profit. Montalbán interweaves with the public story a deeply private tale of lost youth and love, an extended meditation on ageing and loneliness.

The Man of My Life tells the story of two women who love and pursue Carvalho. One is his long-time on-off lover, the ex-prostitute Charo. The other is Jessica, the teenage beauty of Southern Seas. Her return to the detective's life leads to the novel's most beautiful scenes.

Like other late Carvalhos, The Man of My Life rambles too much. To some degree, its digressions reflect how Carvalho has become the most passive of detectives, trapped between childhood memories and fearful old age. He finally does react, though, and more fiercely than ever before. Despite his sarcasm, Carvalho is no cynic. Like Chandler's Philip Marlowe, he is the man of honour walking the mean streets of a sick society.

You can find the full review here

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