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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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?