The Carnivorous Lamb - Augustin Gomez-Arcos

Ladymol's Review

You would think that arty lyricism and underage incestuous porn would make for an uneasy combination in a novel. And I think youíd be right. Both parts of this novel are perfect for what they are. The lyrical language and presentation of a family suffocating in post-political decline is masterful. The only trouble was, it bored me to tears. Move onto the other half of the novel, howeveróthe underage incestuous pornóand Iíve never read anything hotter or more deliciously wrong. Iím cynical, but it does seem that if you wrap hot incestuous boy on boy sex up in fancy language and political metaphor the critics will call it art. Tell it as it is and theyíll accuse you of writing porn. Iím glad Gomez-Arcos had the good sense to be a little arty with this one, or weíd have lost an amazingly evocative book.

Antonio is five when his little brother is born. He claims his as his own, carrying his cradle into his room and keeping there from then on. He has no opposition to this early possession as the mother is insane and the father a distant figure in his study all day. By the time the boy is five, he is Antonioís lover. They are all in all to each other, Antonio teaching the boy his letters as he languorously explores and enjoys his body. This is the love story of the century; no one and nothing is allowed to come between the Antonio and his bother. When a tutor, hired for Ignacio (the boyís name, which we only learn on the final page, in a symbolic coming of age and coming into his own name and identity), Antonio is vicious in retribution when he finds the boy has been beaten.

The boys are able to indulge this incestuous love because they live in a house filled with the madness of living death. Their mother is a total enigma to me: hating Ignacio when he is born, turning the house into her own living grave, yet oddly colluding with the knowledge that her older son is sodomising the younger. The father only makes an appearance in the boysí lives when he is carted out on a stretcher, soon to die of cancer.

There are scenes of amazing power in this novelófirst penetration done in a shaft of bright light surrounded by yellow butterflies; the bothers lying in separate beds almost dying from the forbidden desire they have for each other. The almost gothic weirdness of the household only heightens the sensuality of the bothersí passion.

I admit to skipping long sections of the motherís claustrophobic insanity. But then I poured over the scenes between Antonio and Ignacio. This is a truly odd book but one not to be missed.

Cerisaye's Review

Not an easy book to review. I enjoyed the novel yet was able to put it down for days, though I needed to know the outcome. Perhaps the richness of it, layers of meaning, complex characters, writing heavy with description, means you have to take it easy to digest words and meaning.

The slow reveal of its structure is very effective, from a beginning where we know nothing about narrator Ignacio only that heís arrived back in Spain to open up the family home and await the arrival of brother Antonio who he hasnít seen for several years. Heís very excited by the prospect of reunion. The first thing he does is make the bed in their old room with fresh sheets then bathes repeatedly in the soap their mother always used, a scent redolent of Antonio. As Ignacio tells his story recalling the past and his strange family gradually we understand why he wants Antonio so badly. During the five days Ignacio spends feverishly waiting, the absent Antonio is a major presence in a story of intense longing and deep passion.

It is 1975, Ignacio now 25 and his brother around five years older. As he describes his peculiar childhood shut in the house with only brother, parents and family servant for company, the story becomes a meditation on love and loss, hope and despair. Silence and death permeate the air in stark contrast with the vibrancy of vigorous youth.

Ignacio hated his mother who ignored his existence, silent and indifferent since he refused to open his eyes for 16 days after he was born and then only to look at his older brother. His father retired to his study a defeated man, an invisible presence in the house. That left only his brother to whom Ignacio was so close he was nothing but an appendage living only in the space of Antonioís life.

This is a love letter from Ignacio to Antonio. A mystery, too, drawing you in to wonder what happened to separate them.

Though the relationship is incest, itís described so beautifully, poetically, you donít question the morality (okay brother-to-brother relationships are one of my major kinks). It feels right. Antonio gives endless pleasure to young Ignacio, even teaching him mathematics & geography through eroticism, his body a temple for daily worship. The sex is explicit, really hot, but tasteful, literary erotica, and very much consensual (a truly memorable scene involves butterflies). You never feel Antonio is exploiting Ignacio; in fact the boy is in control for Antonio simply canít govern his hunger.† This is real brotherly love, unlike questionable relationships in Danny, marked by abuse, violence and control/domination games.

Ignacio has no qualms about having sex with a boy (though he holds off on penetration until Ignacio is sufficiently mature).† Their intimacy is tender and affectionate, for comfort and protection as well as something intensely physical. The mother knows whatís going on, and the fatherís isolation is disturbed when it comes to his attention. When Ignacio has to go to school and priests are brought in to fulfil necessary requirements the wicked boy takes delight regaling his confessors with salacious details fanning the flames of desire. The affair is hardly clandestine as the brothers flaunt their togetherness.

So, an intoxicating tale of illicit love; but the book is also laden with social & political meaning, about Spain, the Civil War and the Franco regime. The book was written (in French not Spanish as a protest) in 1975, with Gomez-Arcos in exile in Paris. Thereís a lot of symbolism, images of colour, red and yellow, the decaying old house with its family at war standing for a country marked and divided by bitter conflict, triumphant victors with their spoils and bitter losers slowly dying without hope. Read as metaphor the relationship of Ignacio & Antonio is about freedom of conscience as much as sexual desire, and their union (each delicious incident of congress) a victory against totalitarian forces of oppression holding Spain in thrall. Ignacio & Antonio are the young generation, the hope for a better future.

This is a literary book, carefully constructed and on a different plane than Danny, yet despite that novelís shortcomings somehow it got to me in a way this didnít. Maybe Iím a philistine easily seduced by dirt, but I never forgot I was reading a book.† It didnít get under my skin. The image of the carnivorous lamb (a stuffed skin belonging to Ignacioís mother, a pet never to grow up) devouring everything it touches is disturbing. Ignacio is rather like Danny. Are we meant to like him? Iím not sure if I did, yet I wanted Antonio to come back to him. Is this an acceptable book, the kind that wins prizes, because it uses incest to make a political statement and educate readers in history?