The Cuban-born author's fifth novel (and third in English translation, following In the Palm of Darkness, 19xx, and The Messenger, 19xx) depicts in profuse erotic detail the temptations to which a middle-aged married couple separately succumb during a Caribbean vacation voyage.
Fernando, a seemingly stodgy accountant, and his lively (slightly older) wife Celia journey around the islands, en route to Martinique, in the wake of their only daughter's marriage and their own aroused awareness of time passing—and mortality. He dallies with a sultry fellow passenger, Julieta (amusingly enough, she says she's a harpist), while indulging rather less celestial memories of his many happy couplings with Celia, as well as the occasional past infidelity. Celia, meanwhile, remembers her own satisfying sexual career (Fernando doesn't know she has carried on an extended affair with her importunate lover Agustin) and enjoys a fling with a remarkably endowed black boatman. Meanwhile, the seductive rhythms of the bolero are continually heard in the novel's background, and further counterpoint is provided by a series of letters addressed to an unidentified `Angela` by her lover `Abel.` The mystery of their correspondence, and its connection to the relationship of Fernando and Celia, is deftly revealed in the complex denouement—which also explains the enigmatic Julieta's true nature. Montero also deepens the story’s agreeably bizarre texture with frequently hilarious comparisons of the varieties of human sexual response to the mating rituals of numerous other lovestruck creatures (informing us, for example, that `the curved claws of . . . male owls are out of control during coitus, they leave the soft backs of their mates permanently bent`).
An insouciantly witty celebration of the mingled folly and grandeur of physical love and its discontents. The best so far from one of Latin America's most impressive recent exports.