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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

In her Absence

Antonio Muñoz Molina

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To purchase In her Absence

Title: In her Absence
Author: Antonio Muñoz Molina
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 134 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: In her Absence - US
En ausencia de Blanca - US
In her Absence - UK
In her Absence - Canada
En l'absence de Blanca - France
Siesta mit Blanca - Deutschland
En ausencia de Blanca - España
  • Spanish title: En ausencia de Blanca
  • Translated by Esther Allen

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Our Assessment:

A- : nice little story, very fine writing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly B+ 13/7/2007 Daniel Nemet-Nejat
The NY Sun . 8/8/2007 Nick Antosca
The New Yorker . 17/9/2007 .
The Washington Post A+ 26/8/2007 Brigitte Weeks

  Review Consensus:

  Fairly impressed.

  From the Reviews:
  • "The setup in Antonio Muñoz Molina's In Her Absence is delicious -- half borscht-belt joke, half Beckett. Molina doesn't mine all of the satirical and surreal potential from his premise." - Daniel Nemet-Nejat, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Mr. Muñoz Molina's writing is calculated and decisive, like a confident game of chess. It never thrills but it does have the capacity to illuminate and, to a degree, surprise. More importantly, it feels right for this material; the narrative of a marriage's gradual deterioration is well served by the observant eye and deliberate pen Mr. Muñoz Molina applies to it. (…) Mr. Muñoz Molina has constructed this short, precise novel as delicately as possible and the impression that lingers is one of chilly, cutting intelligence." - Nick Antosca, The New York Sun

  • "Muñoz Molina layers a subtle satire of artistic hypocrisy with a stirring account of class separation." - The New Yorker

  • "Mario is a masterpiece. Molina has created a character with no intellectual pretensions, asking for little except a safe job and a predictable routine. (…) Molina seems intent on making his central character aggressively dull. (…) There is a hypnotic quality to the spare, always forward-moving rhythm of Molina's prose. Mario's limited yet intensely focused world does not let the reader take a breath for even a paragraph. Perhaps that is why the novel is so short. Neither the writer nor the reader could sustain such a pitch of living inside the head of an increasingly disturbed human being. (…) Molina offers the reader a field trip into the soul of this ordinary man living his ordinary life. The result is nothing less than extraordinary." - Brigitte Weeks, The Washington Post

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:

       In her Absence is the story of a very mismatched pair, Mario and Blanca López. The focus is on Mario, but it is Blanca that is the mystery -- so especially as the novel opens, when Mario is convinced the woman he has returned home to can not possibly be his wife, despite looking and being dressed exactly like Blanca, and going through almost exactly the same motions .....
       The story circles back from this uneasy feeling Mario has, describing first how very different the real Blanca and Mario are, and then how they came to be together in the first place before returning to this present.
       The couple live in the city of Jaén. For Mario, who grew up in the countryside and isn't very worldly, it's the big city; for Blanca it's a provincial backwater. Mario is a civil servant, a draftsman at the Jaén Provincial Council who settled for this safety rather than even taking the small additional step of going for a degree in architecture. He doesn't enjoy going out drinking with his fellow office-workers, and his pleasures are simple ones.
       Blanca is flighty and unable to hold down a job. She comes from a well-to-do family, and never really had to worry about money or the future. As is eventually revealed, she was even wilder in the good old days, but even now she's constantly wanting to see the latest art, to travel to the latest exhibition, to talk about intellectual things. Mario tries to be supportive -- well, he's putty in her hands --, even though he barely understands the intellectual blather Blanca loves to engage in and sees nothing in most of the art she drags him off to:

His response to art was often physical, sometimes almost to the point of an allergic reaction: Frida Kahlo, for example, made the roof of his mouth feel as if it were coated with grease, and Antoni Tápies (fortunately not an object of Blanca's devotion) inspired a mixture of weary sorrow and heartburn. He forced himself to feign interest nevertheless, and reproached himself bitterly for his lack of sensibility, the random paucity of his reading, the private lethargy and pent-up resistance he often harbored when accompanying her to a concert, a movie, the premiere of a new play, or an art opening where everyone knew everyone else and greeted Blanca effusively and the paintings looked like doodles or tiny insects and all the young people of both genders were uniformly dressed in black and afflicted with a ghostly pallor.
       He's a very simple guy and these interests of Blanca's completely defeat him, but he puts up with them because he knows he's a very luck guy and has a good thing going and he's head over heels over everything smitten and obsessed with her. Blanca is way out of his league, but in her own way she seems devoted to him. She's a good wife, and a good partner, and when Muñoz Molina eventually gets around to revealing how they originally hooked up one can understand what she might see in him and why she'd settle for this life. Or almost understand it .....
       But has she settled, and settled down ? And has Mario grown complacent ? Is he too focussed on the wrong things, worried about every Frida Kahlo mention because it might give Blanca ideas about dragging him off to Madrid to see that exhibit when, in fact, the actual threat is a much closer one ?
If only he'd paid a bit more attention, if only his obsessive vigilance hadn't betrayed him by keeping him from observing this new danger, the new name that was beginning to crop up in her conversation.
       In her Absence is a nice study in contrasts, and Muñoz Molina presents these two mismatched mates and their backstory very well. The way the story unfolds gives it an air of mystery as well, hinting at parts of what happened all along the way, but only putting all the pieces together as the novel comes to its conclusion. There's something artificial about this story arc, twisted out of shape as it is (this -- in this order -- isn't how one would expect this particular domestic tale to be recounted), but it does allow Muñoz Molina to slowly fill out his portrait of the couple, and it's this he does very well.
       In her Absence is an unlikely but still very appealing love story, and a rich characters-study. Muñoz Molina's writing is a pleasure to read, and he's fashioned a small but agreeable little novel here. Recommended.

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In her Absence: Reviews: Antonio Muñoz Molina: Other books by Antonio Muñoz Molina under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Antonio Muñoz Molina was born in 1956.

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