Wow, this seemingly simple story packs a powerful punch. I am constantly lamenting the gaps in my literary life, and one embarrassingly deficient area of knowledge for me is the Spanish-speaking world of literature. I am trying to rectify this, and one author that I’ve had on my radar for awhile but had never read is Javier Marias. I mean, Orhan Pamuk has said that Marias should win the Nobel prize for literature, and Orhan should know–he’s won it himself.
One of my favorite bloggers suggested I start with this book. And I can see why. This is a quick little book; in fact, one can easily read it in a day. I think it will take much longer than that to process, however.
Quick plot overview:
The narrator is being hunted. He makes this abundantly clear to us in the first five pages of the story. In a kind of stream-of-consciousness style, he tells us just how hunted he is. For the rest of the story, we learn why there are people out to get him, but the story is so funny, I forgot about his being hunted at all.
The narrator is in Mexico to shoot a movie with Elvis Presley. There is, as one can imagine, quite a large contingent of people accompanying Elvis, and our narrator is there for one purpose: as a diction coach. His job is to see that Elvis pronounces the letter “c” as it is pronounced in Spain; Elvis doesn’t want to have a Mexican accent. An easy job, as it turns out; as our narrator tells us, “Mr. Presley had to pronounce very few Spanish phrases in the course of the film…”
We learn that Mr. Presley is quite a nice guy, but is rather restless as well. When they aren’t shooting the film, he and his entourage go out in search of a good time. Our narrator is with them, but he’s no longer a diction coach. Instead, much to his dislike, he is forced into the role of translator. Seeing as they’ve all stumbled into a local bar full of hostile thugs who are intent upon insulting Elvis and his companions, the job of translator is a dangerous one indeed. Our narrator must relay the messages from Elvis to the thugs and vice-versa, all the while trying to keep the peace.
And all of a sudden, this quirky amusing novella becomes seriously intense and psychologically deep. And impossible to put down. Suffice to say, I closed the final page and my hands were practically trembling. The power of words. The power of image. The power of the medium. What is real. What we believe. I’ve been pondering all this and more thanks to Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico. And the fact that Javier Marias worked as a translator for years–wow, that just adds more brilliance to an absolute gem of a novel.
The next Marias novel I want to try is A Heart So White. How about you? Which Marias novel is your favorite?