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Beauty Salon by Mario Bellatin

Beauty Salon

by Mario Bellatin

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
This was a good read, a story (?) that's to the point. I've yet to figure out the true meaning of the aquariums though. Not a page goes by that it's not mentioned. ( )
  thursbest | Aug 9, 2017 |
Some kind of plague is running through an unnamed city. The transvestite owner of a beauty salon has transformed her business into The Terminal, where she takes in men (and only men) who are close to death (and only those; if you look like you have too much life in you yet, she sends you away until you're closer to the end). She used to have several tanks of brightly-colored, exotic fish as decor; she's down to a handful of hearty guppies in a cloudy tank.

There's no character arc here, no big moment of growth and understanding. This is a novella more concerned with getting an accurate snapshot of the setting and main character than with developing anything and making the reader comfortable. It's a quick read (at 63 pages) but a long digestion; it's one that will gnaw on the corner of your brain for a while after reading it. ( )
  librarybrandy | Mar 31, 2013 |
En esta novela corta el narrador de la misma cuenta como convirtio su salon de belleza (decorado con enormes peceras con peces exoticos) en un 'moridero', un lugar donde pueden ir a morir aquellos afectados por un extrana enfermedad debilitante que esta infectando a mucha gente. Solo hombres son aceptados en el salon de belleza y alli aprenden a pasar sus ultimos dias y a morir. Un relato duro en el que el narrador se mantiene emocionalmente distante y muy frio. Una historia interesante y bien escrita. ( )
  alalba | Nov 11, 2012 |
Beauty Salon is a 63-page novella by the Mexican experimental novelist Mario Bellatin, a deeply unsettling account of a man watching others die in the midst of a unknown illness affecting a city, vision clouded by the murky waters of aquariums and self-isolation.

Rather than have a plot or any story arc, the novella simply exists as a snapshot of an existence: the narrator vaguely recounts (for it feels like there's hardly ever any direct statements of action where one thing leads to another, only statements of what things become) how he turned his beauty salon into the Terminal, a place where men on the verge of death from this unknown illness come to die so that they do not meet their end in the street or under bridges. At the Terminal, these guests have a bed and a bowl of soup, along with the company of others close to death, though they cannot have outside visitors and they cannot speak of God. The narrator only accepts men (note that it is not just men who are affected by this illness, but the narrator always turns away women and children) and only accepts those whose death is imminent. In addition to these actions, we have a spotty account from the narrator of his own life as a homosexual man who occasionally wore women's clothing while out late looking for encounters or simply just in his beauty salon. (By the time the narrator is telling his story, though, he indicates that he has burned most of these clothes.) The seedy encounters between men, often at bathhouses or on streetcorners, and the very few flashes of real intimacy shared by the narrator with another only magnify the feeling that this is an isolated man, alone in the world by his own choice and yet he still reaches out to human kind as he takes in the ill and dying, even if he attempts to stay completely detached from individuals.

Weaved throughout the story is a near-constant attention to the fish and aquariums that once provided the beauty salon with its unique and elegant air. Careful attention was once lavished on these creatures, though now few have survived time and neglect; still, the narrator remembers the breeds of fish and particular details about their interactions with amazing clarity. He recites individuals types and recollects their behavior, with particular attention to violent encounters or mysterious deaths, starting with the first three fish he ever purchased. If one ever looked at a novel in terms of a fishbowl, then perhaps Beauty Salon is a strong argument that life is spent floating along, trapped in a set existence and waiting for the inevitable demise as others look on.

As that observation might suggest, I would hazard to say that Beauty Salon might be the most depressing work that I've ever read through. Bellatin crafts some of the most haunting imagery and even now, weeks later, I still recall scenes with a shudder. Very little action occurs and the book seems an attempt to sketch the character of this narrator, yet I still can't understand him... and perhaps that is part of the point. I hesitate to use the word "detached" when discussing the narrator, as he never pulls away and out of life, yet he seals off his ability to connect emotionally with anyone or anything. It doesn't necessarily make him hard, but it makes him seem appear callous, even if that, too, isn't quite right. Caring for men in their dying hours and yet not caring to know them as individuals. Reaching out for physical encounters with other men, yet never seeking a relationship. Intensely focusing on his fish and then deciding to move on to some other breed, and so discarding the living fish as though they were already dead. It's all very unsettling and the reader is left wondering if there's any meaning to life at all or if we are the fish, easily purchased and easily discarded. If we are the fish, then we're really simply floating through life, subject to the whims of a greater force outside the tank... or perhaps (which might even be worse) observed by nothing and no one at all.

The book is structured with the narrator telling his story without interruption, ultimately revealing that he, too, has contracted the same illness as those who die around him and it is only a matter of time before he'll share the fate of so many others who have arrived at the Terminal. There is no obsessive focus on this, as if we're listening to the rasped and rushed words of a man on his deathbed, and yet there is a confessional quality to it, with topics fading in and out as he calmly speaks on. This is the first work of Bellatin's to be translated into English and I cannot help but wonder what subtle linguistic notations were lost in translation. The novel was originally published in 1999, so perhaps that will have some impact on your interpretation of the mysterious illness striking the city... though perhaps not so much as if this were written in 1989, I think. It is impossible to not interpret this as a reaction to the height of the AIDS epidemic of the 80s/90s when information about HIV and AIDS was so scarce and entire communities seemed to disappear, ravaged by the same illness. One might also think of Saramago's Blindness and other books where disease seems to wipe out a population, though the focus on the narrator's lifestyle reminds the reader that not everyone is dying of this disease. Life does seem to go on in the city, even though it feels as though many men come through the Terminal's door. One of the truly frightening things is the utter lack of hope from within the narrator, who has no illusions about his fate and, given that one of his rules for the Terminal is there can be no talk of God, he does not ask moral questions of a higher power. It is not a novel of despair, but one of bleak vastness... an emotional death that has taken place long ago and left a man in the four walls of what was once his dream business... now reduced to a sanctuary that only offers the essentials as men prepare to die.

If all of that isn't enough to scare you off and, instead, you feel intrigued, then I would actually recommend Beauty Salon... for no other reason than the images and ideas stay with you. The thoughts they inspire certainly aren't warm and fuzzy, but they get interesting. This was a book club selection and I voted for reading it purely on the basis of a NY Times article published a little over a year ago, written by Larry Rohter:


A few years ago the Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin attended one of those literary conferences here where writers are asked to talk about their own favorites. Unwilling to make a choice, he invented a Japanese author named Shiki Nagaoka and spoke with apparent conviction about how deeply Nagaoka had influenced him, fully expecting the prank to be unmasked during the question-and-answer period.

Instead the audience peppered him for more information about Nagaoka, who was said to have a nose so immense that it impeded his ability to eat. So Mr. Bellatin (pronounced Bay-yah-TEEN) decided to extend the joke and promptly wrote a fake biography — complete with excerpts, photographs and bibliography — called “Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction.”


You can find the rest of that article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/10/books/10bellatin.html?_r=1&sq=mario%20bell...

Seriously, after reading that, how can you not want to see what else comes from this man's imagination? Of course, Beauty Salon does not share any of the whimsy of this particular prank, but what it does have is an amazing attention to details and an ability to provoke deep thought... though I'm not sure my thoughts are guided towards anything in particular besides what springs from musing on the presentation of this isolated man's experience and perspective. It might not be pretty, but I'd still be interested in reading more of Bellatin's work in the future, pretty or no. ( )
  alana_leigh | Sep 20, 2010 |
The "Beauty Salon" follows the ruminations of the unnamed narrator. The narrator, a former cross-dresser, once owned and ran the beauty salon for which the story is named, and has now transformed it into a sort of hospice (or Terminal as he calls it) for dying men suffering from a unnamed and mysterious illness that appears to be ravaging the area, possibly similar to AIDS.

He runs this hospice on his own, and is the sole provider of aid to the dying men that occupy beds in his store. However the aid is tinged with more then a bit of disdain as the narrator seems to dislike the very patients he provides aid to in the last weeks or days of their lives. Much of the very short novel revolves around his reflections on his once magnificent collection of tropical fish, a collection that grew in size and beauty as the salon succeed, and began to die off as the disease spread and the salon closes.

Overall, a fascinating if depressing short novel (63 small pages), that should be required reading for anyone interested in modern Latin American or Mexican writing. ( )
  Kordo | Jan 16, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Despite—or perhaps because of—the porousness of the narrator’s revelations, Beauty Salon succeeds in suggesting whole worlds just outside of its pages. The effect is distinctly cinematic: a montage of images which catch the reader’s eye and expand the reality of this anonymous man, anonymous disease, and anonymous city far beyond the story itself. Black tetras and angelfish, Amazon piranhas and golden carp. A friend, dressed for the evening in high ‘European’ style, trimmed with feathers and long gloves. A dying man, wrapped in cardboard “to ease his trembling.” A steaming public bath, “exclusively for men,” with a “wooden counter in the lobby with multicolored fish and red dragons carved into it.” A bowl of thin chicken soup, served to the guests each day. A common grave.

Frank, haunting, and darkly evocative, the disparate imagery (perhaps more than the story) of Beauty Salon will linger in the readers’ minds long after the brief narrative has come to a close.
"That questions about gender can be gorgeously rendered in such a short work so obsessed with death speaks of Bellatin's mastery of the form, and we’re left to grumble about the paltry amount of fiction translated into English (translations of three of his stories were included in Chinese Checkers, released by Ravenna Press only in 2007). Thanks to his 'unusual' personality, though, Bellatin was featured in the New York Times. Score one for non-English-language lit?"
added by CityLightsBooks | editAlicia Kennedy
"Although pithy in size (a mere 63 pages), its subject matter is decidedly not: a mysterious and deadly plague has descended upon an unnamed city, whose infected inhabitants come to the Terminal, a former beauty salon, 'where people who have nowhere to die end their days'. . . Originally published in 1999 but recently translated from the Spanish by Kurt Hollander, I feel this disquieting novella is destined to haunt—and ultimately inspire—any reader who dares allow himself to reflect upon its deeper lessons."
added by CityLightsBooks | editNCBPMA, Adrienne Biggs
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Anything inhumane becomes human over time.

Kawabata Yasunari
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A few years ago my interest in aquariums led me to decorate my beauty salon with colored fish. Now that the salon has become the Terminal, where people who have nowhere to die end their days, it's been very hard on me to see the fish disappear.
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"An extremely slender, sad tale by Bellatin recounts a gay man's reflections on the waning days of sexual excess and the specter of death wrought by AIDS, though here AIDS is a mysterious, nameless plague. Formerly a stylist in a beauty salon in an unnamed city, the narrator, a transvestite, has now transformed the salon into the Terminal, 'where people who have nowhere to die end their days.' The Terminal has become a kind of hospice for dying gay men, the hair dryers and armchairs sold to buy cots and a cooker, the mirrors removed to avoid 'multiplying the suffering.' The manager keeps exotic fish in aquariums, which he keenly observes as an allegory of what's happening in the larger world: as symptoms of the sickness become apparent on his own body, he notices a fungus growing on the angelfish that fatally infects the others. The narrator's brutal reasoning renders Bellatin's tale an unflinching allegory on death"--Publisher's weekly, June 29, 2009, p. 109.… (more)

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