My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was written in Argentina in 1976, and feels way ahead of its time.
The main characters are two characters: Valentin, a politial prisoner, and his cellmate, Molina, and most of the novel has them talking to each other. Unusually, a lot of their conversations revolve around Molina telling Valentin the plots to old films; for example, the first few chapters had him recounting Val Lewton's "Cat People". There were a few other films that I didn't recognise, though I wondered if one of them was the very underrated "I Walked with a Zombie".
First off, what makes this book feel unusual, certainly for the 1970s, is that one of the main characters - Molina - is gay. So, some of the conversations have him explaining about his feelings and sexual tendencies to Valentin, who doesn't really seem to understand it. The approach towards homosexuality is done in a sympathetic way, and does not appear to be intended as insulting (I have no idea whether the author himself is gay). Some of the conversations were also about politics, which wasn't too surprising because of Valentin's background.
Secondly, most of the book is written entirely in the form of dialogue, which often makes a narrative more challenging. I've read a few other books like this; Stephen King's "Dolores Claiborne" and Richard Adams' "Traveller" are both entirely in the form of one character narrating their past to someone else, so I had to get used to the characters' mannerisms.
Because this book is a dialogue between two characters, it is more challenging, and I often got a bit confused about who was speaking, and I found myself having to take clues as to what was happening from what they were saying to each other.
There is another narrative style, termed "stream of consciousness", which seems to recount Valentin's dreams, which give a little insight into his background; these are uncommon, and I did struggle a bit reading these because of their format - several pages in length, and with no paragraph breaks, and only minimal description as to what is happening.
This was definitely a hard book, but I managed to get into it after a few chapters. The main appeal of this is not really about what is happening, but the relationship between the two men, which felt like more of a bromance, and which possibly developed into something more towards the end.
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