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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Woman from Uruguay

Pedro Mairal

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To purchase The Woman from Uruguay

Title: The Woman from Uruguay
Author: Pedro Mairal
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 152 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Woman from Uruguay - US
La uruguaya - US
The Woman from Uruguay - UK
The Woman from Uruguay - Canada
Auf der anderen Seite des Flusses - Deutschland
L'amante indecisa - Italia
La uruguaya - España
  • Spanish title: La uruguaya
  • Translated by Jennifer Croft

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Our Assessment:

B : reasonably entertaining if somewhat strained

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Harper's . 7/2021 Claire Messud
Le Monde . 22/3/2018 Ariane Singer
The NY Times Book Rev. D 29/8/2021 Ratik Asokan
The Observer . 7/11/2021 Lucy Popescu
TLS . 10/12/2021 Annie Mcdermott
World Lit. Today . Fall/2021 Anderson Tepper

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) slim and eminently readable iteration of the genre, delivered in the disarming voice of a feckless novelist turned house husband. (...) The novel is suffused with a rueful bemusement that befits its protagonist" - Claire Messud, Harper's

  • "The tone, too, is one we have heard before: clever, cosmopolitan, somewhat fey, vaguely troubled. Or perhaps that is the book Mairal set out to write, before he lost his nerve. Midway through, he turns a mood piece into a seedy thriller, bringing in sex, crime and intrigue. The result is an unfocused, lopsided story that packs far too much into 150 pages. (...) The Woman From Uruguay draws on two energies that power the telenovela genre: misogyny and commerce. Pereyra is a standard-issue, literary beta male who objectifies women and ignores the female point of view but is shielded from outright monstrosity by the veneer of self-awareness." - The New York Times Book Review

  • "By the end of this psychologically astute novella, translated sensitively by Jennifer Croft, Lucas recognises how quickly cracks in a relationship become chasms and that the key to happiness is acceptance." - Lucy Popescu, The Observer

  • "Pedro Mairal’s premiss is not original, but his artful plotting reinvigorates a familiar tale. (...) The claustrophobia is heightened by the nervous energy of the prose, well captured by Jennifer Croft’s translation. Lucas is a hyperactive, easily distracted narrator, and seems to riff on everything that passes through his mind. (...) The Woman from Uruguay feels like a theatrical monologue, a one-man show. Lucas seems to stand alone in the middle of a stage, at once self-indulgent and deeply exposed, but it is this combination of bravado and honesty that makes the novel convincing." - Annie Mcdermott, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The Woman from Uruguay gathers momentum and sparks as Lucas and Magalí eventually meet up at an outdoor café and plot their afternoon seduction over multiple rounds of drinks. Inevitably, though, their plans go awry, and the day takes on a sinister, hallucinatory edge" - Anderson Tepper, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Lucas Pereyra offers a: "chronicle of that Tuesday" in The Woman from Uruguay, recounting an eventful day in the life of the then-forty-four-year-old Argentine author from a bit further down the line and after the fact. It was meant to be a significant, even life-changing day, a definitive new chapter in his life; it turned out that way, too -- just not at all like he had thought and hoped.
       Born to relative privilege, Lucas had grown up in considerable comfort -- to the extent that he understood that, among much else: "money had shaped my language". As a young adult he had, however: "subsequently taken the liberty of going off the rails, the artist with no business sense, the bohemian". If that was fine when he was in his mid-twenties, he's had enough of it. Married, to Catalina, and with a young son, Maiko, he is overwhelmed by the responsibilities of fatherhood and yearns for time of his own in which he might be able to write.
       Lucas has had some success as an author, but his situation and parental obligations are now holding him back. Finally, however, he sees some light at the end of this particular tunnel: he was going to get his hands on: "The cash that was going to solve everything". Advances from abroad -- Spain and Colombia -- for his last book had finally come in, and the cash was going to buy him some freedom:

Nine months or maybe even ten of working with tranquility, door shut, no interruptions. The novel for the Spanish publisher and the shorter pieces for Colombia. I owed two books. The shorter ones were almost done. I just had to figure out the structure of the book, put the pieces in order. The main thing was the novel. Ten months to write a novel. It wasn't bad. This was going to be my great novel. I could sense it. [...] (I)t was going to be my Ulysses, my Devil to Pay in the Backlands, my total novel.
       Exchanging the money he was due to receive at the official exchange rate would halve his take, so he had cleverly set up a bank account across the border in Uruguay, in Montevideo, and had the money sent there. On this fateful day that he then recounts in such detail, he's traveling to take out the fifteen thousand dollars and smuggle it back into Argentina, where he'll exchange it on the black market -- imagining that then he'll be all set, and finally really be able to get to work.
       Heading to Montevideo, Lucas however does not have his eyes solely on the prize. The money-collecting errand is a good excuse, but he has other ambitions there. Specifically, there's a young woman whom he had met at literary festival he had been invited to, Magalí Guerra Zabala. They had hit it off, gone off in search of some adventure -- and parted with just that small (or, in Lucas' case, apparently quite considerable) bit of unfulfilled yearning.
       They stayed in touch, and now Lucas sees himself not only getting his hands on the freeing money but also on finally being united with this woman from Uruguay who has long haunted his dreams -- quite literally, as the novel (ominously) opens with Catalina telling him, on the morning he sets off for Uruguay, that he talked in his sleep, and that he had said: "The same thing as last time: Guerra".
       In Montevideo, Lucas get his cash, rents a fancy hotel room, and looks forward to being reünited with Guerra. He's ready -- and, he believes, equipped -- to live out his fantasies, romantic as well as then, over the coming months, literary. Unsurprisingly, things do not work out as he had envisioned. They don't work out well at all. By the end of his day trip he can only slink home -- and it doesn't get better there. He's battered if not broken, his entire life upended -- though in his telling, from quite a few months after that day, it all turned out, in a way, well enough.
       Lucas' narrative is actually addressed to his wife, and in fact The Woman from Uruguay is a kind of family-novel, exploring what 'family' means. Among the most successful parts are Lucas' descriptions of fatherhood, of how all-consuming child-care, in the broadest sense, became after his son was born, not just the physical work involved but also the endless worry and concern. As much as he loves his son, however, Lucas also sees him as an obstacle to his writing. There is not that much about his relationship with his wife, but clearly there are strains in the marriage by the time he takes his day-trip to Montevideo -- and in reflecting on all that happened then and after Lucas writes:
I've been thinking a lot about family and marriage. It's going to sound like I think I am better than everyone, but I'm serious: there has to be another way. We grew up with this idea of family that wound up filling us with anguish when we saw the cracks in it.
       His (mis)adventures in Montevideo allow for a reset, with everyone -- Catalina, Guerra, and him -- finding their place in the novel's rather easy resolution. It's not your typical happy ending, but the sense is that everyone now lives true to themselves, having found the appropriate situations for themselves.
       The Woman from Uruguay is predictable in much of its story-arc, and rather odd in its message, especially about the idea of family. Catalina's behavior (and the reason behind it) as the marriage strains also play a role in things -- and offers an additional too-easy excuse and explanation for the rather neat final resolution of their relationship.
       Having an author as narrator-protagonist can be problematic -- especially when, as here, the actual author veers so much between his protagonist being self-aware and self-deluding. On the one hand, Lucas is a man-child, more moved by impulse than actually thinking things through -- not least regarding Guerra -- and he makes numerous really bad decision here; but he's also meant to be reflective. By the end, looking back, he realizes:
If I could narrate the exact day of that dog with all its details, smells, sounds, intuitions, comings and goings, then I would be a great novelist. But that much imagination I do not possess. I write about what happens to me.
       So also his ambitions -- literary, romantic, and otherwise -- seem naïve and unrealistic -- not least the idea that being able to pay for someone else to clean the house and the like would be sufficient to free him up to write his great masterpiece. Lucas never convinces as anything more than a prosaic author, and his dreams of his "total novel", in which he was: "going to explode Spanish and branch it out like a tree in every direction, a thousand things were going to happen" are unbelievable from the get-go. All he is capable of -- as he finally does come to realize, lowering expectations several notches -- is writing what happens to him.
       What happens to Lucas, on that fateful day and then as a consequence of it, is reasonably entertaining. Lucas learns his lesson and, less dreamy, settles -- but readers could have hardly expected more from him. The Woman from Uruguay is satisfying enough on some level -- the hapless hero and his fall can be amusing -- but also aims for a weightiness that's just not there.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 June 2021

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The Woman from Uruguay: Reviews: Pedro Mairal: Other books by Pedro Mairal under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Pedro Mairal was born in 1970.

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© 2021 the complete review

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