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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Pretty Face

Rafael Reig

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To purchase A Pretty Face

Title: A Pretty Face
Author: Rafael Reig
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 181 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: A Pretty Face - US
A Pretty Face - UK
A Pretty Face - Canada
  • Spanish title: Guapa de Cara
  • Translated by Paul Hammond

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Our Assessment:

B : decent entertainment

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural . 29/7/2004 Ricardo Senabre
The Independent . 7/9/2007 Amanda Hopkinson
Independent on Sunday . 26/8/2007 Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski

  From the Reviews:
  • "La fuerza satírica de Reig es notable, pero el autor vacila entre manejar a sus personajes como muñecos y tratarlos como a seres humanos erosionados por una conciencia de fracaso. No siempre se armonizan bien ambas visiones, lo que daña la unidad del estilo narrativo de Guapa de cara." - Ricardo Senabre, El Cultural

  • "What the novel that packs so many punches lacks is a comprehensible translation. The text is littered with obscurantist expressions at once far too literal and too far from the sharply-honed original." - Amanda Hopkinson, The Independent

  • "If there's a problem with this novel it is Paul Hammond's translation. For a book that purports to examine the inauthentic nature of existence it's a shame there's occasionally a synthetic feel to the prose." - Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski, Independent on Sunday

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:

       A Pretty Face is narrated by María Dolores Eguíbar Madrazo and begins with her murder, five days before her thirty-sixth birthday, in 1999. The novel is set in a slightly alternate reality: here the Americans invaded the Iberian peninsula in 1981 and: "Spain joined the United States and Anglo became the official language" (with: "Spanish, our mother tongue, the forbidden lingo")
       María Dolores is married to but long-separated from a neuroscientist, Fernando, a leading candidate for the Nobel Prize. Fernando's new discovery, the neuroprotein K666, is: "capable of reconstructing brain tissue" and thus can be used to defeat degenerative brain diseases; it might also, if used quickly enough, save the life of someone with a bullet in her head. The people who killed María Dolores were after some papers she had, as she hasn't entirely been able to separate herself from what her husband has been doing (itself also related to her father's work, though he long ago stepped back from it).
       The perspective of the deceased -- essentially unable to play any role in the actual action, but able to witness it all -- is a decent one, with María Dolores musing on everything from the sorry knickers she was caught dead in (even after all those warnings from her mother that: "you never know") to the bumbling police investigation. She watches her parents grieve and contemplates what she's left behind from her time on earth (including a pretty flimsy obituary). She sums up her feeling in thoughts such as:

     I'd always believed that in fact we die like certain characters in a novel: owing to the author's simple lack of imagination. Because nothing better occurs to him than to see us off. I considered that we die through laziness, because nobody has either the time or the energy to get down to thinking of an ending for our tiny lives, so they bump us off through a series of allusions, without it appearing in the main plot and without anyone being any the wiser.
       The alcoholic private eye Carlos Clot, familiar from Blood on the Saddle, is also called in on the case, by María Dolores' father, but it's little more than a cameo investigation; as it turns out, he's not ideal man for the job, as his own daughter's drug dependency leaves him vulnerable to some of the interested parties.
       There's also a political angle to the novel. The world Reig describes has some surreal touches, but isn't that far removed from what one might do in a thriller set in familiar Spain -- but Reig uses the alternate reality he sets up to emphasise some of what has been lost in the recent decades of the Coca Colanization of the world. It's surely no coincidence that María Dolores was born in 1963, the same year as Reig, and that she defines hers as a specific kind of lost generation. Now, dead, she truly is invisible, but already earlier she could claim: "I learnt the value of not being seen: the art of ellipsis". And she goes so far as to say that she (and, presumably, Reig) are part of a group for whom:
A generational 'we' does not exist, and this is the closest thing to freedom. We've suffered the capital H of History without ever getting to write it. We don't know how to conjugate the first-person plural. We haven't participated in either la movida or the transition to theUS Iberian Federation. Nothing whatsoever, we're no more than people on a one-to-one basis. Solitary and amusing individuals. Men and women society has no hold over and therefore with a chance of being free, although at the cost of being a nobody.
       Dead and disembodied she is, of course, completely free -- and also completely nobody.
       Reig's humourous and jaunty style has some appeal, and María Dolores' character and voice carry most of the novel. The surreal invention is also decent, though the mix of hardboiled, sci-fi, down-to-earth, and meta-fictional (María Dolores was also an author, and she is not quite alone in her other-worldly condition ...) can pull the novel in a few too many directions. It doesn't all work ideally, but it's a decent little read, with some fine touches.

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A Pretty Face: Reviews: Rafael Reig: Other books by Rafael Reig under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Rafael Reig was born in 1963.

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