A celebrated Spanish author (Sepharad, 2003, etc.) contemplates identity and desire in this smartly amusing novella.
Mario López is not an adventurous man. When he decided to leave the small town of his birth, he moved to the rather poky provincial capital of Jaén, rather than the bustling metropolis of Barcelona. He is a civil servant, not an artist. The only reckless thing he has ever done is fall in love with Blanca. Beautiful, cultured and spirited Blanca is completely out of Mario's league, and the only thing more shocking than his ridiculous proposal of marriage is her acceptance. Their union is far from perfect—Blanca wants many things that Mario has neither the fiscal nor the temperamental resources to give—but Mario remains passionately devoted to his wife until he decides that the woman sharing his home is not Blanca at all but, rather, an impostor. Ultimately incapable of believing that a woman like Blanca could ever be his, Mario convinces himself that she is not, that she has dumped him for another man and left a double in her place. Muñoz Molina's elegantly constructed existential comedy begins with Mario scrutinizing the minuscule mistakes of the false Blanca, and it ends with him surrendering to this woman who may be even more exciting than the original. It is ironic, then, that Blanca is the only character who emerges as real. She's unstable, yes, but authentically and reliably so. The artist-types who populate her romantic history are, on the other hand, spectacular shams, and her friends are outrageously—yet believably—pretentious. Mario, meanwhile, subsumes himself in his effort to keep Blanca happy. He pretends to love sushi and carpaccio. He feigns interest during excruciating conversations with his wife's friends. He uncomplainingly attends such cultural events as a contemporary opera at the “Center for New Theatrical Tendencies.” Ultimately, it is Mario who proves to be the biggest fake of all.
A sly, supremely stylish entertainment.