Saturday, December 12, 2009

The She-Devil in the Mirror

"It seems to me that one of the most successful and effective forms of tackling the political is by the technique of the thriller or the detective novel, not only thanks to their virtues for creating suspense but also because with detective fiction it is possible to immerse oneself so deeply in the sewers of political power.” Horacio Castellanos Moya.

Firstly the style....the 190 page narrative is in the form of a clipped, short, crescendo wave like of a monologue, that as the time moves on becomes racy, fast, furious and manic. It matches in tone and pace the mental state of our narrator who we can feel getting breathless, getting more and more excited as things become thick and hot, to borrow the narrator's turn of phrase. It would not have been possible to write this novel in any other way and thus from the purely stylistic point of view, Horacio Castellanos Moya's The She-Devil is a success.

The narrator, Laura Rivera's close friend Olga Maria has been shot and killed in the presence of her two young daughters. Apparently it is a senseless murder, for Olga Maria has no enemies. And as Laura starts her monologue, delivered not to the reader but to another friend, who interjects and interrupts briefly, most of which interruptions are sometimes responded to and at times ignored, the narrator begins to talk about her friend and their friends, all of whom belong to the upper levels of San Salvadoran society, circle of power, politics, finance and sexual and political infidelity. Laura's tirade, initially directed against the incompetent criminal police shifts towards her murdered friend's husband, ex-lovers and against disbelief that Olga Maria could have had an affair with her husband too. There is no dearth of sexual liaisons here, all of them sleeping with the other person.

Laura Rivera, as the moments proceed, then launches into her own investigation of the murdered woman's death and its possible causes. As news spreads of possible financial ruin of her friend's husband and with it the possible ruin of many military officials involved in the civil war, her thoughts become more frenzied and by her own admission more paranoid. Anybody could have ordered Olga Maria's death, from her husband to her other lovers, one of them a possible candidate for the country's presidency. The alleged murderer, called RoboCop, escapes from prison, leading Laura to believe that he might want to kill her. Laura seeks refuge with her friend, recipient of this monologue, which ends in her finally being admitted to a psychiatric unit, treated for possible paranoid illness. Laura contemplates emigration to a safe haven, now that everything and everybody is involved in deceit, murder and a breakdown of law.

This novel, from the point of view of its narrator, relishes in a narration that seeks to explore an independent objectivity in a state of affairs where the outsider, not privy to any real knowledge of facts, spins theory after theory. She berates the police chief Handal and his side kick ( the same detectives from Dance with Snakes) of complicity as she does to the others including a maverick detective called Pepe Pindonga ( hired by the murdered persons sister). As we flick the pages, which we do with the same pace as her monologue acquires speed ( we have to, there is no choice), Laura descends into a furious paranoia, witnessing what she later calls her schizophrenic tendencies. Everything is split up, and some of her comments are not only honest but reflect a total lack of tact, confiding as she does her observations to her close friend, who belongs to the same social class. Not only does she come across as prejudiced and class obsessed, she is hostile towards what she calls the Arabs of San Salvador, the poor and the dark skinned people, who are responsible for the mess, as she calls it.

The nature of the economic and political conspiracy is never apparent to the reader and thus the whole monologue, disjointed and interrupted by her stream of consciousness style of observation ( she fears for her life, RoboCop is outside and she wants her friend to change her sofa as it is worn out), never frames or is able to come up with any realistic account of these happenings. Every conspiracy and political corruption, every act of chaos is outside the hands of visible authority, nobody knows anything, not even the President. Power that should allow a sense of sanity is so dissolved and so disjointed that any lead to the murder ends in the narrator's mind as an act of intrigue, with politicians and drug cartels and individuals complicit in perpetuating that sense of helplessness which the contemporary individual, outsider to the doors of power has to bear, live with and mostly invent.

As in Senselessness, which has the political angle attached to the story from the first moment, in The She- Devil, the political gets attached as any new angle catches the narrator's fancy; the aftermath of the civil war feeds and perpetuates the singular loneliness of the individual. Power or lack of it and paranoia are brothers in arms, every new clue must necessarily lead to more reflection to the discerning. The most realistic options then are emigration, the choice for the narrator of Senselessness ( whose monologue is poetic and sonorous and melancholic and long sentenced) as it is for Laura Rivera, whose monologue is short, clipped and filled with her own conceptions of how her society should be and of her own desires, sexual frustrations and that shallow objectivity that breeds on political privilege and corruption, of which she is a part of.

The She- Devil in the Mirror is stylistically accomplished and its ferocious pace forces you to read it in not more than two sittings. It is a total triumph and is the least political novel of all. It shows the fragmentation in each society, the political correctness that one lets slip in front of one's friends, hairdresser or trusted colleague. All class and colour prejudices are shown here in full clarity. It is definitely a great novel, well, a really great novel.

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