jueves, 12 de enero de 2017

Los mares del Sur

Los mares del Sur (Booket, 2016)
by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
Spain, 1979

My favorite detective can beat up your favorite detective, got it?  Ace crime caper, situated in late 1970s Barcelona around the dawn of the democratic transition and hence long before the then gritty city was gussied up for the 1992 Summer Olympics, in which the mysterious disappearance--subsequently discovered to be a gruesome murder--of a rich Catalan industrialist and real estate developer leads private detective Pepe Carvalho down a Chandleresque rabbit warren filled with knife-wielding proles and equally cutthroat white collar criminals.  Really enjoyed this punchy, page-turning introduction to the world of Vázquez Montalbán.  Pepe Carvalho, a 40-something foodie, ex-con and former bibliophile who feeds his fireplace with texts from his 2,000 volume personal library since all books are "una chorrada" ["useless clutter"] (27), is an amusing enough center of attention throughout, and Vázquez Montalbán generously seasons the whodunit aspects of his smart and witty story with humor bookish (a send-up of a debate about the origins of the hardboiled novel! in-jokes about Juan Marsé!!) and earthy (a reflection on the advances in "márketing puteril," or streetwalkers' hustling, occasioned by a non-touristy walk down las Ramblas) (90) before the ending shows he's not just fucking around for laughs.  In its world-weary evocation of a troubled time and place, a not unworthy kindred spirit to the likes of Cela's La colmena and Polanski's Chinatown.

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003) y amigos

Muchísimas gracias to Paul of By the Firelight for his juicy review of Los mares del Sur [Southern Seas*] here.

*A Gauguin allusion embedded in the title begs the question why the English translation isn't The South Seas rather than the meaningless and nondescript Southern Seas, but go figure.

12 comentarios:

  1. This sounds very good.

    The burning of the books sounds disturbing in a strangely humorous way.

    I tend to also like it when book reference books and literature.

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    1. I thought it a great way to start out my reading year, Brian. Very lively! Btw, I think I read somewhere that the running joke about Carvalho's penchant for book burning was Vázquez Montalban's payback for the dismissive attitude with which literary snobs often regard detective fiction.

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  2. Now I know what to do with my useless clutter. It's going to be extra warm around here.

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    1. You'll have to fill us in on which books burn brightest. Carvalho even torches an "extraordinary" E.M. Forster novel!

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  3. ¡ Hola Richard !
    Leí un artículo sobre Vázquez Montalbán en un libro de Carlos Gamerro, " El nacimiento de la literatura argentina y otros ensayos", llamado Uno de los nuestros: Manuel Vázquez Montalbán y me quedé con la pica. Ahora veo tu post y me obligo a indagar.
    Saludos

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    1. ¡Hola Mario! Sí, vos tenés que leer Vázquez Montalbán o al menos su requetedivertido Los mares del Sur, un libro que combina un argumento que te engancha desde el principio con un poco de comentario social sobre los años del posfranquismo en España. Gracias, por mi parte, por mencionarme ese artículo de Gamerro; lo leí ayer y me gustó. ¡Salu2!

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  4. Montalbán has long been on my list. I even gave Southern Seas as a gift once without - horrors! - having read it myself, only because the recipient was a Andrea Camilleri fan au fond, and I thought he might appreciate where Inspector Montalbano got his name. That the gift was well-received - phew! - gave me confidence that I'd like this too.

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    1. Scott, what a great gift giver you are! In fact, I think it's only right that you treat yourself to this novel next time--a read I suspect you might enjoy more than the Camilleri novels based on the two OK but kind of lightweight ones of those I've read so far (i.e. this Vázquez Montalbán was in another league). Thanks, by the way, for reminding me about where Inspector Montalbano got his name; I had read that explanation a long time ago and promptly forgotten about it. P.S. Have you seen any of the Montalbano TV shows with Luca Zingaretti in the lead? I enjoyed a bunch of those a few years back.

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    2. I'll get to it, Richard, thanks! And yes, I've seen quite a few of the Montalbano TV shows - really enjoyable.

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    3. Aw, man, you're in for a treat with that Vázquez Montalbán! Btw, I'm going to give Camilleri's The Snack Thief a try in its Sicilian/Italian original language version sometime this year. It might take a while, but it should be a fun experiment. Ciao!

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  5. I'm a big fan of Montalban - I keep hoping that they'll translate more of these, especially since the Melville House reprints.

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    1. As a latecomer to the novelist, I'm stoked that I still have something like 15 Pepe Carvalho mysteries left in store for me not to mention Vázquez Montalbán's poetry and essays which I've also heard such good things about. I do envy you your more in depth familiarity with the author, though, Grant. Lucky you!

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