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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Eduardo Lalo

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To purchase Simone

Title: Simone
Author: Eduardo Lalo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 157 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Simone - US
Simone - US (Spanish)
Simone - UK
Simone - Canada
Simone - India
Simone - España
  • Spanish title: Simone
  • Translated by David Frye
  • Premio Rómulo Gallegos, 2013

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Our Assessment:

B+ : rich, surprisingly expansive work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times . 26/11/2015 John Williams
Publishers Weekly . 24/8/2015 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Once the stranger is known (...) the pairís erotically charged relationship proves less interesting than the previous mystery, and the prose describing their desires grows occasionally purple." - John Williams, The New York Times

  • "Throughout the book, Laloís characters are animated by aimless wandering around the city, long bookish conversations, wordplay, and an awareness of their place in the world. (...) The book ends with a debate among several writers about the role of Latin American literature that feels like it could stand alone as a manifesto on the subject." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       The narrator of Simone is a Puerto Rican author much like Lalo himself, a small fish in the very big pond of Spanish-language literature. Early on, he mentions that a couple of years before the action described in the book a publisher had reissued his first three books, collecting them together in a volume called Three-in-One, and has enjoyed a bit of success with this volume that's still found in local bookshops; it was: "circulating by dribs and drabs, but I knew that normally things were much worse". (As it happens, Lalo's first three books were reissued in a one-volume edition by Isla Negra Editores in 2002, albeit under the title La isla silente.)
       Simone itself is also very much a three-in-one volume -- a single story, and yet with three very different stages to it. It begins as the self-absorbed jottings of an author, reflective notes on writing and life (and his writing life) and stray observations. There's a bit of suspense, as someone starts leaving cryptic messages for him, but for the most part it's not even very clear how much of this is real and how much just a literary game the author might be playing. After all, as he admits:

Writing fragments, writing notes in a notebook as the days fly by is the closest I can come to creating a text that doesn't know it's lying. Later, when I rework it, I'll introduce subterfuges and establish ways of not saying things, or of not saying everything.
       Bound book in hand -- i.e. all this having passed through the whole editorial and publishing process --, the reader is left uncertain whether these are to be considered the initial, authentic notes -- or all this is already part of a reworked text, with subterfuges and all .....
       Just under halfway through, the narrative changes dramatically, as the author finally meets his stalker, and a relationship develops between them. Here the entries are much longer, relishing and living in the moments, the narrator's life and routines changed completely.
       Finally, there is a lengthy scene near the conclusion, where the expectation is for the action to be concentrated on a possibly final meeting between the author and the woman he has gotten so close to, but where Lalo stages another confrontation, another local author and the narrator getting into a heated argument with an internationally acclaimed writer visiting from Spain about Spanish-language literature and publishing.
       It's worth noting and even emphasizing Simone's tripartite division -- which, it should also be noted, isn't absolute, but rather has the three different aspects overlap and bleed into one another, all of a piece (but nevertheless distinctive, especially in style). The opening section suggests a certain kind of novel, a writer obsessed by writing, a man who is more or less a loner, jotting down odds and ends, often to do with literature, and while there's a sliver of a mysterious element -- his stalker -- even she seems, there, little more than some literary apparition. In other words, there is a specific kind of writing on offer here -- and arguably a very tired one. But readers who roll their eyes at this sort of stuff should show some patience: Lalo's text doesn't quite turn on a dime, but he executes a remarkable transition from this stage to the next, and Simone becomes a much bigger -- and, with an added dimension to the previously fairly flat (or at least overly familiar) tale, a much better -- novel. For well over fifty pages readers might well wonder how on earth such a novel could have won the Premio Rómulo Gallegos prize -- one of the most prestigious Spanish-language novel prizes --;, but after the midway point that decision seems much more reasonable.
       It's not that the opening section is bad, but it is very familiar, and the writer-narrator very self-absorbed: we've seen variations on this before (way, way too often); as it turns out, the rest of the book more than justifies Lalo's beginning, because this first part too is integral to the larger, deeper whole.
       The opening section gives a good impression of the narrator, a man who admits: "what meant the most to me, even more than women, were books" and lives a fairly isolated life. There is a woman who drifts in and out of his life, Julia -- but she's just: "that unfinished story, set aside to apathy and boredom". He feels small and insignificant, on this small and insignificant island, wondering, for example:
Is anyone counting us, the people living on this island ? Do we exist for anyone, on this secretive afternoon, as we try to detach from the noise, the heat, the dust ? Who hears our life stories ?
       Among the things he jots down are overheard bits of conversations or brief impressions -- hardly life stories, and reinforcing the idea of pervasive marginality.
       The pieces of writing he finds, clearly meant for him, stir things up a little, but take a while to get him out of his rut; for the most part he just goes along with it very passively, taking a wait-and-see attitude. He can't explain it, either:
A woman is after me, but I don't know why, or who she is, or what she hopes to accomplish.
       The mystery-woman long doesn't identify herself in her notes -- signing as 'Simone Weil', if at all, but that is just another touchstone she suggests in cautiously bridging the gap between them. Yet Lalo doesn't continue the game too long: the stalker reveals herself quite straightforwardly, and while she remains a bit coy about revealing much of herself she and the narrator begin a friendship that quickly develops into a deep relationship. The change in the narrator -- and his writing -- is palpable, too; even he recognizes and admits that with her now: "Things were better".
       On some levels their relationship is very intimate -- but she remains guarded too. Her situation -- she studies comparative literature at the university, but also works full-time in close to bonded labor -- makes for a specific timetable when they can be together, but even beyond that she is the one who sets limits and bounds.
       While her background and situation are completely different from the narrator's, they are kindred spirits:
The loneliness and suffering that had accumulated for years, the weight of an entire lifetime, had brought us here. We were castaways sharing a single raft in the ocean of San Juan's streets and it was clear that if we hadn't been so deprived we would never have met.
       In Simone Lalo presents Puerto Rico as a marginal space, with the characters representative of further marginality: the author is a writer on the periphery of the Spanish-language-literary complex, the woman he becomes involved with literally an outsider (being an immigrant). The argument the narrator and the other Puerto Rican author, Máximo Noreña have with Juan Rafael García Pardo, the representative of the Spanish literary establishment, seems almost didactic in purpose (and, to some extent, presentation), a slightly jarring change of pace and focus, yet it is just another side of an argument and condition that Lalo has set out to portray throughout the book.
       Lalo has Noreña do most of the arguing -- his narrator remains true to his observer-self, for the most part -- and it is an entertaining takedown of the literary situation in Spain -- right down to his dismissal:
Spain doesn't have a literature; it has a publishing industry
       (The significance and dominance of Spain's publishing industry, and the consequences for Spanish-language literature abroad are something Lalo surely knows a great deal about too: despite the prestigious prize-win for this title, it appears to still only be available in an (Argentinian) Ediciones Corregidor edition, and is difficult to obtain in Spain (and hence has had a far more limited reach than a book published by a Spanish major would) -- and indeed it seems practically none of Lalo's books have found Spanish publishers.)
       Noreña also claims:
I prefer the clarity of being on the margins, in this squalor.
       Simone is a clear-eyed vision of the Puerto Rican margins -- some of them, and not the ones usually found in contemporary fiction, which also makes it all the more effective. Both the literary and the personal are handled well here, even if there are stock elements to some of the characters' situations.
       It can seem an oddly structured novel, yet it works -- especially as a whole -- surprising well, and the shifts in Lalo's narrative make for a story that doesn't simply chug along predictably from the outset but expands, in breadth and depth, into an ultimately rich, rewarding work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 October 2015

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Simone: Reviews: Other books by Eduardo Lalo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Puerto Rican author Eduardo Lalo was born in 1960.

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