Nick Antosca reviews Antonio Muñoz Molina's "In Her Absence".
Unconditional romantic love can be a particularly subtle and damaging form of masochism. As the act of gamely rationalizing away flaws in the character of one's beloved becomes a daily ritual, one's misery and devotion increase by equal measure. The absolute best way to make the whole experience more excruciating is, of course, to get married.Read More
Antonio Muñoz Molina's sly and enigmatic new novel, "In Her Absence" (Other Press, 126 pages, $13.95), concerns a provincial Spanish bureaucrat named Mario López who has married, well out of his league, a beautiful woman for whom he could not be more poorly suited. Because Mario remains infatuated to the point of obsession with his wife, he must regularly engage in grueling mental gymnastics to a) convince himself that the marriage has any chance whatsoever of survival, b) not resent the relative tepidity of her feelings for him, and c) not break his mind as a result of the psychological contortions required for a) and b).
The reason Mario and his wife, Blanca, are not right for each other is that his frightful dullness (and he knows he's dull; he tries to be otherwise but just cannot manage it) simply does not complement her petulance, frivolity, or persistent attraction to fashionable artistic poseurs. In Mr. Muñoz Molina's frank, blunt sentences, one senses both pity and contempt for the ill-matched lovers.
Before Blanca, Mario's life was drab. For seven years he dated a bland creature named Juli, but that quietly crumbled. ("How strange, he thought ... I was on the verge of marrying a total stranger.") There followed a time of watching videos alone and slowly, diligently reading Ramon Menéndez Pidal's "History of Spain": "He embarked on a plan to read it from the first volume to the last, and would always remember that he had made it to the obscure and tedious reign of the Visigoths when he met Blanca."
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