Sunday, March 25, 2018

The clitoral look of raspberries

The Angst-Ridden Executive, by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, is a madcap romp of a mystery, Catalan-style. (Is that a great cover design or what?)

The story bounces from LA and Vegas to Barcelona and its Catalonian environs. Pepe Carvalho met a fellow Spaniard, a bigshot executive, on a flight in the States. Years later, the executive's wife asks Carvalho, ex-communist ex-CIA private investigator, to solve the mystery of his murder.

I wanted to like this novel more than I did, if for no other reason than to set the mood for my visit to Barcelona in a couple weeks. I would not say the streets of the gothic quarter line this novel — that is, the city is not a character in her own right. But there's a (distinctly Catalonian?) lusty grab-life-by-the-balls spirit that envelops the book.
When Gracian wrote that "a good experience is doubly enjoyable when it's short-lived", he can't have been thinking of food. Or, if he was, then he must have been one of those intellectuals who are happy living on alphabet soup and eggs that are as hard and egg-like as their own dull heads.
This book has breasts and blowjobs (in a strangely matter-of-fact and completely incidental way), cigars, drink, and food, glorious food. Also poetry (meet Luis Cernuda) and politics. Often all these things in the same breath. It has a frenetic energy that I associate with things Spanish. It's smart and it's funny.
He enjoyed the clitoral look of raspberries, and their fleshy texture and acidity, which was less gritty on the teeth than the mulberry, and with more of a physical consistency than the strawberry.
There's the ex-con who works for Carvalho (they once shared a prison cell) — a kind of office manager sidekick. There's the friend obsessed with the idea of setting up an anti-fascist resistance movement in the mountains who acts as research assistant. The boot-black with his ear to the street.
Wide awake and relaxed, he contemplated the bookcase in the corridor, where an irregular array of books was taking up space, sometimes upright and tightly packed, and sometimes falling all over the place, or with their titles the wrong way up. He hunted out Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sholokov's Quietly Flows the Don and Sacristan's Essays on Heine. He went over to the fireplace, tearing up the books with the relaxed expertise of one who is well practised, and arranged the dismembered tomes in a little pile, on top of which he placed dry twigs and kindling wood. The flames caught at once and spread rapidly, and as the printed matter burned it fulfilled its historical mission of fuelling fires that were more real than itself.
What this book doesn't have a lot of is easy-to-follow plot. But I'll take the blame for this one — maybe it's there, I'm just too distracted of late to find it. I have no idea whodunit. Despite this, I really enjoyed my time with this book. There are some great set pieces — even if I couldn't get the thing to hang as a whole in my currently fuzzy reader brain.

I'm completely open to trying more Montalbán; I just need to find the right headspace for it.
"Poetry isn't progressive. Or raspberry-coloured. Or anything at all. It's just poetry, or it's nothing," the poet said, without anger, but with all the dignity of a Flemish burgher.
Crimespree: Review.
The Guardian: Notes from Barcelona's dark side.

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