Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Eagle's Throne by Carlos Fuentes

Set in 2020, this has been described as a work of futuristic fiction. Most such fiction - E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four, L.P. Hartley's Facial Justice - describes a world radically different from the one familiar to people at the time it was written. But in The Eagle's Throne, the fact Condoleezza Rice is the first black female US president is about all that differentiates Carlos Fuentes's satirical vision of the political future from today. May it not be that, in setting the date of his story 14 years ahead, he merely wished to avoid the charge that he was pillorying real people? The foundation on which Fuentes has erected his elaborate if sometimes unconvincing plot is that the Mexican president has incensed the US by hoisting oil prices and demanding that the superpower cease to meddle in the affairs of Colombia. In retaliation the US, which controls Mexico's satellite systems, immediately cuts off its phones, faxes and email. This allows Fuentes to tell his story entirely through letters.

All the letters are stylistically and intellectually brilliant. Not one is without its arresting aphorisms: "What is melodrama but comedy without the humour?"; "Politics is the art of swallowing frogs without flinching"; "It takes much more imagination to be ex-president than to be president".

Each letter glitters with brutally vivid similes and metaphors. The problem is, all these letters seem to be written by the same person: Fuentes. When, in his latest novel Kept, D.J. Taylor produces pastiches of two great Victorian writers, one can immediately distinguish that one is William Makepeace Thackeray and the other George Eliot. But if the letters in Fuentes's novel were not preceded by the names of their authors, one would be hard-pressed to decide who wrote what. Sadly, he cannot do voices.

You can find the review here

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