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This review is taken from PN Review 71, Volume 16 Number 3, January - February 1990.

THE FALL AGAIN Alvaro Pombo, The Hero of the Big House, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (Chatto & Windus) £11.95
Manuel Puig, The Buenos Aires Affair, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine (Faber) £4.99 pb
Manuel Puig, Blood of Requited Love, translated by Jan L. Grayson (Faber) £4.99 pb

Unfortunately the translatrix of this brilliant novel by the contemporary Spanish writer Alvaro Pombo has started off by giving us a misleading title. The 'house' is a block of luxury flats. The Hero in the Building might have been preferable - especially as it is by no means certain who the hero is. Perhaps it is an ironic reference to Julian, the doomed and effeminate servant. Perhaps it is the grandson nicknamed Kus-Kus - another inappropriate candidate as he thrives on eavesdropping and blackmail. Perhaps it is even Manolo, Aunt Eugenia's toy-boy, the handsome deliveryman she takes to replace the glamorous gigolos of her South American past.

Pombo builds up - the verb is justifiable - a fascinating three-dimensional picture of a rich Spanish family. In the décor of Buñuel's Tristana with telling details of food and furniture a nervy comedy is played, darkening and thickening as the novel progresses until it ends with imprisonment and suicide. The romanticism of the novelette curdles to pathetic squalor. Game becomes crime. Innocence spirals down to corruption.

The whole inevitable process occurs with uncanny skill. The reader is called upon imperceptibly to re-arrange his attitude to each of the characters as events alter them and as they interact on each other. Pombo has constructed his novel tautly so that apparent coincidences are locked into place. The structure is masterly. And the characters, however at first sight predictable or grotesque, are portrayed with the deepest understanding and compassion so ...


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