Disorganized crime and lunatic melodrama share the spotlight in this prizewinning 1996 novel by the clever Spanish author (The Year of the Flood, 1996, etc.).
The story is set in Catalonia: specifically, Barcelona and the nearby resort town of Masnou, in the late 1940s, when Spain languishes under Franco’s postwar fascist regime. Popular playwright Carlos Prulla involves himself with rehearsals of his newest comedy (Arrividerci, Pollo!)—as well as with inept actress Lili Villalba, who’s also the plaything of the Prulla’s financial backer, crime boss Ignacio Vallsigorri. The latter turns up murdered, Prulla is suspected, then finds himself harassed by a down-to-earth police inspector and a hilariously righteous priest who urges Carlos to stop pleading innocence and accept punishment he deserves anyway, for writing such godless trash. And, in fact, Prulla’s play—rehearsals of which are interspersed with other actions—is a piece of largely plagiarized hackwork involving multiple murders, identity theft, and byzantine upstairs-downstairs intrigue. What Prulla doesn’t know is that Inspector Verdugones is keeping tabs on him because he’s acquainted with several pleasure-loving aristocrats involved in a royalist plot to depose Franco. Add to this a scheme to bring flour (a scarce postwar commodity) to Spain from South America by subverting a United Nations boycott, and you have more than enough for a carousel of a plot that moves at lightning speed and scatters bodies about imperturbably. Clueless Carlos is a splendidly amoral antihero; it’s impossible not to sympathize with his guilty bewilderment as the law’s noose appears to tighten, and the fallout from his dalliances with half a dozen fetching women (including his long-suffering wife Martita) threatens even direr consequences. It’s all enormous fun, though you may want to scribble notes and draw charts while endeavoring to comprehend its multiplying intricacies.
Polished if not precisely “light” comedy from an accomplished literary novelist who knows how to entertain.