Fiesta in November, by Eduardo Mallea

I’d read a couple of stories/novellas before (Chaves, The Lost Cause of Jacob Uber) by Eduardo Mallea, though I can’t exactly remember where I heard of him – certainly not in the English media anyway (Wikipedia has a typically laconic write-up). He was an Argentinian writer of the 30s-60s – Fiesta in November was written in 1938.

From what I’ve read, Mallea seems to specialise in hatred. Both Chaves and Lost Cause, as far as I remember, were about men who aroused an unreasoned aversion in their fellows. Fiesta in November, however, largely seems to concern characters who hate themselves, or segments of society possessed by an unbridgeable hatred.

It takes place at a high-society party being given by a woman called Mrs Rague, drifting from point of view to point of view in an occasionally stream-of-consciousness type way – now turning to her husband, now to her daughter Marta, now to a out-of-place guest, a painter called Lintas. One might easily perhaps recall Mrs Dalloway in this, yet having not read it for a long time, I couldn’t rightly say if this was merely a superficial resemblance or if it is entirely derived from that book. Mrs Rague, as it happens, is an Englishwoman who has married an Argentine, and she hates – along with all her class – poor people (which, as we know, is the very characteristic of Virginia Woolf). Her daughter, however, upon whom the narrative eventually settles, hates her own class – and yet is unable to reach out to a class beyond her, here represented by Lintas, who himself has a lot of issues about class to get off his chest, leading to a rather disappointing second half where characters speak far too theoretically, as if they have no interest in communicating, but are only intent on representing the author’s own ideas in a stilted manner. The business of class is remarkably heavy-handed: they are essentially portrayed as two different races, split from birth and incapable of intermingling (though I suppose this is what a class system really is, as opposed to our own which we are supposed to be obsessed about); the upper class have complete contempt for the lower, seeing them more or less as inhuman; but perhaps this is a reasonable representation of Argentina at this time. The first half I found much better.

I also read Ernesto Sabato’s disappointing The Tunnel; and Autumn Sonata by Ramón del Valle-Inclán, which was much on the same lines as Spring and Summer.

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4 thoughts on “Fiesta in November, by Eduardo Mallea

  1. Another author of whom I’ve never heard (these language and/or country specific “challenges” are so great for that).

    I too was disappointed by The Tunnel, but it’s also a book about which I felt a lot had been lost in translation – not by the quality of the translation, but by my lack of knowledge about its reception in Argentina. What appeared to me to be rather shocking misogyny is, I gather, an intentional exploration of the misogyny of the main character. But ugh – how unpleasant!

  2. I haven’t made up my mind about Mallea yet. I’d preferred the shorter things of his I’d read, and this is good in parts; but in other parts it is less good.

    I think my problem with The Tunnel, and I fear I’ve already forgotten too much about it, is that I just didn’t buy it. – No really, I can’t say any more: I only read it last week, but now I’ve absolutely no idea what it is about or what happened in it.

    A much better novel about misogyny, with a misogynistic narrator, which I’ve read recently is Henri de Montherlant’s The Girls. I’ll try to write a review at some point.

  3. I don’t know much about Mallea at all, but in flipping through a book about Bioy Casares today at lunch I saw that ABC called Mallea “another overrated writer” like Roberto Arlt (whom I enjoy a great deal–so Bioy’s target practice says less than your post here). I don’t care for class system-obsessed novels from any country–well, other than Proust maybe–so I’m not sure Mallea will be moving up in the queue anytime soon (nor am I eager to read any other Sabato novels anytime soon after the disappointing second half of his most famous novel).

  4. Probably he is overrated, or was and has now sunk to the appropriate rating, but I have quite enjoyed his characters who bring out an aversion in others.

    Reading three much, much better Spanish-language books at the moment, and have also finished Torrente Ballester’s most enjoyable The King Amaz’d, which I don’t think I’m going to review because I can’t think of all that much to say about it other than that I enjoyed it; it’s historical fiction; satirical; and it’s claim to be the only Torrente translation in English “as far as is known”, a claim made in 1996, is untrue – I have another translation of his works, published in 1986. (But all the same, he’s another writer I might have to turn to French to read).

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