Unexpectedly haunting: ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ by Manuel Puig (1976)

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Something a little strange, that’s what you notice, that she’s not a woman like all the others.’

I almost feel guilty writing a review of this book because much of my joy in reading it was battling my confusion as I slowly worked out what on earth was going on.  The quotation above is the first sentence of the book.  Dashes, but no speech marks, show that this is part of a conversation.  Through questions, digressions, interruptions and arguments, a wierd, supernatural story is narrated until the chapter abruptly ends:

– And?
– Tomorrow we’ll go on.  Ciao, sleep tight.
– You’ll pay for this.
– See you in the morning.
– Ciao.

This really is a novel for story-lovers, because there are several for the price of one.  As the details emerge, we learn that the two men talking are Molina, a gay window dresser with a fondness for, and imperfect memory of, trashy films and Valentin, a fierce revolutionary.  The two men are forced into companionship though the novel’s setting, an Argentinian prison cell.  We get to know them through their dialogue and these conversations are dominated by the plots of Molina’s favourite movies.

Fiction is shown to be redemptive as it creates companionship, friendship and hope between the two suffering men.  On the other hand, the line between fiction and fact is a dangerous space.  Between sexual and political tensions, issues of power and truth are complex and shown to have very real consequences.  Thus, Valentin’s stories of love, betrayal and inner authenticity provide a tragic undercurrent to as well as a glossy escape from the confines of the prison.  A masterclass in economic writing, the script-like format of the novel denies the reader any narrative pauses within which to establish their own frame of reference.  Instead, we are caught up in the protagonists’ restricted world; you can only ever rely on intuition and the facts that are presented to you.

Complex and sparse, ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ is a haunting and powerful novel that glorifies in the power of fiction while simultaneously exposing its limitations and dangers.  I’m yet to see if the film adaptation is as wonderful as the source novel, but I have high hopes.  In fact, I may just leave the final words to the enjoyably superlative reviews quoted on the movie poster:

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Image from PastPosters

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3 Responses to Unexpectedly haunting: ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ by Manuel Puig (1976)

  1. Pingback: Inspired by Diverse December: an A-Z of BAEM authors for 2016 | Shoshi's Book Blog

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I remember the film coming out and being very highly thought of, but I’ve not come across the book. It *does* sound fascinating if somewhat complex – but I like complex when I’m in the right mood! 🙂

    • I should have mentioned, it’s also pretty short and a very fast read (so the complexity doesn’t last for very long) – I hope I haven’t made it sound too intimidating!

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