Spanish author Calvo’s second novel, the first to be published in English, is a sprawling tale of sex, drugs, art thieves and family rivalries in modern-day Barcelona.
The heady mix of intellectual affairs and pop-culture absurdities, along with some questionable forays into metafiction, occasionally recalls David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (1996). The plot loosely hangs on the moody frame of Lucas Giraut, an antiques dealer who’s in bed with Bocanegra, the seedy partner of his late father, to make a killing on some stolen Celtic paintings. He’s also doing battle with his mother, who’s making a play for the stock that Lucas owns in her husband’s firm; questioning the motivations of Bocanegra, who had a shady relationship with Giraut’s father and a Russian art thief; and managing an awkward relationship with his neighbor Valentina, a pubescent girl who has an unhealthy enthusiasm for Stephen King’s upcoming opus—which, incidentally, is also titled Wonderful World. Calvo’s novel includes excerpts from that book, in which a strangely perfect-seeming New World Order inevitably gives way to global panic, and that’s just one of many cultural references he tinkers with, from car ads to pop music (Bob Marley and Pink Floyd most prominently) to porn to X-Men comics to couture. But to what end? Calvo hints at apocalyptic themes throughout, and stray plot threads help give the story an end-of-days feel. But this novel about chaos is disconcertingly chaotic itself. The array of forgers, mobsters, cops, gallery owners and lawyers that Calvo introduces has verve, color and the occasional bit of bawdy humor, but little coherence. Irritatingly, that may be the intent: As the climax nears, Calvo riffs on the insincerity of plot and characterization. A chase scene, for instance, has “the atmosphere typical of the conclusion of a story.” It’s a tactic straight out of the postmodern playbook, but it’s no less a cop-out for that.
A baffling, disappointing epic from an intriguing stylist.