viernes, 23 de noviembre de 2012

Boquitas pintadas

Boquitas pintadas (Debolsillo, 2009)
por Manuel Puig
Argentina, 1969

"Todo lo que empieza como comedia acaba como tragedia".
(Roberto Bolaño, Los detectives salvajes)
 
Boquitas pintadas, la impresionante segunda novela de Manuel Puig, es una especie de homenaje y parodia de una telenovela cargada de muerte, una novela epistolar a la antigua, y un folletín que empieza como comedia y acaba como tragedia.  Según mi punto de vista más bien pesimista, es un valioso ejemplar de la llamada "literatura argentina de la pesada" de que habló Roberto Bolaño en Entre paréntesis.  Vamos a lo esencial.  Juan Carlos Etchepare, un mujeriego guapo sino tuberculoso, es el centro de atención dentro de la novela, dando besos y escupiendo sangre mientras que él corre tras las faldas en la Argentina de los 30 y de los 40.  No obstante, las noticias de su muerte a la edad de 29 años hacen estallar una reacción en cadena melodramática en cual sus ex amantes y sus íntimos amigos se convierten en las estrellas de sus propios hilos argumentales desdichados.  Historietas de amor.  Historietas de fracaso.  Historietas de amores fracasados.  Aunque la trayectoria emocional de la novela es más y más deprimente hasta el final, Puig proporciona un mecanismo de escape a los lectores con la vivacidad de su prosa.  Lo que sigue son tres ejemplos de la manera asombrosa de narrar de Puig en una novela que se destaca a causa de la riqueza de sus narradores y sus estilos narrativos.  En las páginas 116-119, hay una secuencia onírica que se relata a través de una lista de "Imágenes y palabras que pasaron por la mente de Juan Carlos mientras dormía".  En las páginas 130-131, un narrador sin nombre nos dice a) lo que hizo Nélida Enriqueta Fernández, la otrora novia de Juan Carlos, en el día 27 de enero de 1938, y b) comparte con nosotros las respuestas a las preguntas "¿Cuál era en ese momento su mayor deso?" y "¿Cuál era en ese momento su temor más grande?"; en las páginas 131-137, por medio de una repetición hábil que ocurre en varios momentos a lo largo de la novela, el narrador nos dice lo mismo acerca de Juan Carlos y cuatro otros personajes en los esbozos en miniatura sinópticos que siguen.  Por último, en las páginas 205-210, una mujer se confesa antes de un cura en una escena en cual lagunas dentro de frases y trucos de puntuación idiosincráticos llaman la atención al hecho de que sólo un lado del "diálogo" se escucha.  El punto de todo esto, en el evento que no esté claro todavía, es que Puig era un grosso en lo que refiere al estilo y a la estética.  Y además, pienso que Bolaño probablemente tomó prestado un par de peculiaridades estilísticas del tipo.

Heartbreak Tango (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010)
by Manuel Puig [translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine]
Argentina, 1969
 
"Everything that begins as comedy ends as tragedy."
(Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives)

Boquitas pintadas, the impressive second novel from Manuel Puig that's unfortunately only available in English under the cheesy moniker of Heartbreak Tango, is a sort of half-homage/half send-up of a death-laden soap opera, an old school epistolary novel, and a newspaper serial that begins as comedy and ends as tragedy.  From my rather pessimistic point of view, it's an all too worthy example of the so-called Argentinean literature of doom that Roberto Bolaño talks about in Between Parentheses.  Let's cut to the chase, though, shall we?  Juan Carlos Etchepare, a handsome womanizer suffering from an advanced stage of tuberculosis, is the nominal center of attention within the novel, exchanging kisses and coughing up blood while furiously chasing skirts in 1930s and 1940s Argentina.  However, the news of his death at the ripe old age of 29 sets off a melodramatic chain reaction of memories about the character in which his ex-lovers and other intimates become the stars of their own no less unhappy mini-dramas.  Love stories.  Stories about life's failures.  Stories about their failures in love.  Although the novel's emotional trajectory steadily gets more and more depressing until the very end, Puig manages to provide an escape valve of sorts for his readers via the sheer vitality of his prose.  Here are just three examples of how the guy racked up style points galore with me in a novel that offers up a kitchen sink's worth of narrators and narrative formats.  On pages 116-119,* there's a dream sequence conveyed through a list under the heading "Imágenes y palabras que pasaron por la mente de Juan Carlos mientras dormía" ["Images and Words That Passed through Juan Carlos' Mind While He Was Sleeping"].  On pages 130-131, an unnamed narrator tells us a) what Nélida Enriqueta Fernández, the one-time girlfriend of Juan Carlos, did on the day of January 27, 1938, and b) shares the answer to the questions "¿Cuál era en ese momento su mayor deseo?" ["What was her greatest wish at that moment in time?"] and "¿Cuál era en ese momento su temor más grande?" ["What was her greatest fear at that moment in time?"]; on pages 131-137, through a clever repetition pattern used at various points throughout the novel, the narrator tells us the same thing about Juan Carlos and four other characters in the ensuing synoptic vignettes.  Finally, on pages 205-210, a female character makes a confession to a priest in which lacunae within the sentences and idiosyncratic punctuation tricks I won't try to replicate here draw attention to the fact that only the woman's part in the "dialogue" is being transcribed.  The point, in case it's not yet clear, is that Puig was an arresting stylist with many tricks up his narrative sleeve.  What's more, I think that Bolaño probably picked up a couple of good tricks off the guy.

*All page references pertain to the Spanish language edition of the novel.

Manuel Puig (1932-1990)

16 comentarios:

  1. Never read anything by him, although he's on my reading list of course. I've only seen the movie The Kiss of the Spider Woman, I thought it was very good with two excellent performances by Hurt and Juliá.

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    1. Many people seem to think that Puig's The Buenos Affair might be his best work, Miguel, but I enjoyed Boquitas pintadas much more than that one this first time around. Have not yet read The Kiss of the Spider Woman, but I'd like to read that and/or view it again eventually. In any event, for a guy who's sometimes branded as a lightweight, Puig strikes me as a very interesting writer both for his innovative storytelling style, which often includes a mix of Pop Art approaches, and for the fact that he claimed to be more influenced by film than by literature. I hope to read much more by him, for sure.

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  2. This sounds interesting Richard. Another for the TBR. I'm having a bit of a slow reading month although the two books I'm reading are great - Hopscotch and Group Portrait with Lady. Just can't seem to find time, or am far too sleepy. However I will be posting on Hopscotch whenever I finish and so far (not far) it's a stunner.

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    1. Boquitas pintadas is solid, Séamus, and well worth adding to the TBR if you can find a copy. However, Hopscotch is a stunner as you say--take your time with it, and you will be repaid many times over for the effort! Good to hear that you like the Böll so far--I'm interested in that one, but the one I most want to read by him is The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum.

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    2. i'm working my way through Böll (I've read Billiards at Half Past Nine and The Safety Net). If you're reading The Lost Honour at some stage I might read along.

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    3. Thanks, I'll be sure to keep that in mind. I had once hoped to tackle the Boll for German Lit Month, but that fell by the wayside for various reasons inc. the usual poor planning + the 2,000 pages from the two Russian chunksters I hope to complete before the end of the year...

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  3. Not having read this, nor knowing any more about it than your post here, I'm stuck on the English translation of the title. From Boquitas pintatdas to Heartbreak Tango, really? I'm sure they had their reasons....

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    1. Amanda, I grant that Boquitas pintadas wouldn't have been the easiest title to render into English literally: neither Painted Little Mouths nor Lipsticked Little Mouths really sounds so hot. However, Heartbreak Tango sounds like such a sappy cliché! Which is why I would have just left the title untranslated as is. That being said, the title comes from an early tango lyric from Alfredo Le Pera ("Deliciosas criaturas perfumadas,/quiero el beso de sus boquitas pintadas...") and most of the chapters are introduced by other tango lyrics from the 1930s. Puig plays on the contrasts between healthily-colored mouths (red lipstick lips, for example) and deathly-colored mouths as the novel segueways from part one to part two, which I assume carries less symbolic meaning/significance for the reader in translation who only knows the book's title as Heartbreak Tango. P.S. Hope this isn't too much info for you, but I know you share my interest in translation matters!

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    2. Ah, that's makes more sense then. That said, the English title still sounds more like a choice from the marketing dept. trying to lure an unsuspecting American audience into reading a translation...

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    3. I agree--and also, at the risk of coming off like a complete grouch, I have to say that that flowery cover on the translation isn't doing anybody any favors. That cover hurts me!

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  4. I've yet to sample Puig's work. Bolaño liked him all right but didn't mention him a lot (just a few times in Between Parentheses). He was, I think, a touchstone writer for Cesar Aira.

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  5. Rise, I knew that about Bolaño but I didn't know that about Aira--interesting! Although I'm not sure that Puig originated the techniques, I'm quite certain that Bolaño borrowed at least two moves from him that are also used in this novel: the repeated question riff & the quick sequencing of vignettes where the narration zeroes in on what takes place in the lives of various characters at the same point in time. Ace storytelling maneuvers in the able hands of both writers, of course.

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  6. I ve only read two by him tropic noght falling and kiss of ,This is one I had my eye on since dalkey brought it out as I like to try him again he mix the best bits of Argeninan fiction I feel that dark edge but also playful richard a highly underated Argentina writer ,all the best stu

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    1. Stu, I agree that Puig is underrated outside of Argentina or at least relatively little hyped in the non-Spanish speaking parts of the book blogosphere that I'm familiar with. Also, what you say about him here about him having a "dark edge" but a "playful" side is spot on--at the very least, that tension between the light and the heavy side of things is one of the things that has most appealed to me about his work in both books I've read by him thus far. Cheers!

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  7. Mi favorita de Puig es Cae la noche tropical. Sensible, divertida y con diálogos sencillamente perfectos.

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    1. Gracias por la recomendación, Martín. Será difícil decidir entre ese título, La traición de Rita Hayworth y Maldición eterna a quien leas estas páginas en cuanto a mi próxima Puig, pero te agradezco la información sobre las calidades de la novela. ¡Saludos!

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