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El amante bilingüe by Juan Marse
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El amante bilingüe (1990)

by Juan Marse

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Catalan (1)  English (1)  Spanish (1)  All (3)
The book begins with a scene where Marés, the protagonist, arrives to the apartment he shares with his wife Norma to find her in bed with another man. Her lover is a poor shoeshiner (apparently Norma has a thing for humble, working men), and after she gathers her things and leaves, Marés has a rather lengthy conversation with him. He tells him his sorrows and the history of his relationship with Norma. The shoeshiner is understandably uncomfortable and would like to leave, but since he's more or less trapped he starts shining Marés' shoes. Eventually Marés doesn't have anything more to say, the shoeshiner doesn't have anything more to shine, and he's allowed to leave. Somewhere in there, we learn that this episode represents the last time that Marés and Norma saw each other as husband and wife. When she walked out the door, it was permanent. Since she came from a super-wealthy Catalán background, she leaves the apartment to Marés and allows him to keep living there as long as he needs to.

The rest of the book takes place about a decade in the future. Marés has slowly descended down from the normal, middle class world, and he's now a street performer who earns a living playing the accordion around town. He uses different signs and plays different songs in order to appeal to different sectors of the charitable public. He also got burned somewhere in the ten years that are skipped over, although he's not horribly disfigured or anything too bad. He's obsessed with Norma and wishes he could be back with her. She's a linguist who works on some sort of post-Franco project to document and normalize languages in Cataluña, and Marés calls her from time to time, pretending to be an uneducated Murcian internal immigrant who's wanting to learn how to say some technical vocabulary in Catalan so that he can post signs in his business in that language and avoid discrimination from the patriotically Catalan buying public. He's got a way with voices, impersonations and performances, stemming from a childhood spent with an actor mother and a mostly-absent magician father (or father figure). This ability of his comes to the forefront as the book goes on. During Carnaval, his friend dresses up as a shoeshiner in order to win the affection of his cousin, and when his plan fails Marés swipes his costume and decides to masquerade as somebody else for a night. While his night ends miserably--he encounters Norma and her sophisticated, snobby friends at the bar, and ends up giving her a shoeshine that eventually leads to a breakdown and lots of tears--the night's experience is an important one. He spends the second part of the book pursuing the possibility of becoming other characters and interacting with familiar people under different guises. He eventually faces an important choice as to whether he wants to be who he was, or who he's made himself into.

It was really nice to read a book that was at the same time accessible yet challenging: the story is straightforward, the characters (especially Marés) are interesting and likeable, and the pages fly by. On the other hand, the implications of his escalating game of impersonations are rather thought-provoking. The conflicts between the person he was (and still wants to be) and the person he is, then between the person he is and the people he pretends to be, were what I liked the most about this book. Goodness knows I enjoy books about people who assume names and set out into the world to have some adventures. I'm not often inclined to read books as new as this one (it was published in the early 90s), but as I think about it, I wonder whether there might be a great number of books out there that would appeal to me in the way that this book did: books that are made to be readable and accessible to a wide audience, yet also capable of retaining the interest of the more demanding reader (although I wouldn't like to think of myself as such, I pretty much enjoy every book I read)...books that are less simple than meets the eye. I read this book quickly and kind of rushed to finish it because I had another book I really wanted to read, but I think if I went back and read it again, I'd enjoy it all the more. ( )
1 vote msjohns615 | Dec 26, 2011 |
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Sinopsis: Juan Marés, un soñador que se ha hecho a sí mismo, se ve engañado y abandonado por su mujer, perteneciente a la alta burguesía catalana, y de la que está totalmente enamorado. Este abandono lo hunde en la desesperación y la indigencia, y lo convierte en un marginado solitario, un astroso músico callejero que deambula por los barrios bajos de Barcelona, hasta que concibe una delirante estratagema: hacerse pasar por un charnego pintoresco y fulero llamado Faneca, para reconquistar a su ex mujer.
La falacia empieza como una broma, una aventura algo grotesca e inverosímil, pero adquiere una dinámica imprevista, y el personaje ficticio comienza a ganarle terreno al real, la máscara devora a Marés y se hace dueña de su voluntad, de su memoria y de su lengua.
El amante bilingüe fue adaptada al cine en 1992 por Vicente Aranda, con Imanol Arias en el papel de Faneca, y Ornella Mutti en el de su mujer.
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