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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The She-Devil in the Mirror

Horacio Castellanos Moya

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To purchase The She-Devil in the Mirror

Title: The She-Devil in the Mirror
Author: Horacio Castellanos Moya
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 191 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The She-Devil in the Mirror - US
La diabla en el espejo - US
The She-Devil in the Mirror - UK
The She-Devil in the Mirror - Canada
The She-Devil in the Mirror - India
La mort d'Olga Maria - France
Die Spiegelbeichte - Deutschland
  • Spanish title: La diabla en el espejo
  • Translated by Katherine Silver

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Our Assessment:

B+ : amusing/disturbing self-obsessed monologue

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation . 14/12/2009 Natasha Wimmer
TLS . 4/12/2009 Joshua Marcus
The Washington Times . 13/12/2009 John Greenya

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) monologue of the sort that makes translators tear their hair out. (...) The novel's real drama, however, revolves around Laura, as the title suggests. (...) Only gradually does it become plain that her sense of what's normal is very different from the generally accepted sense, and when it does, the reader's recoil is almost physical. Corruption seeps from every pore of her perfect skin. She's so steeped in it that it's invisible, until certain unavoidable facts begin to surface." - Natasha Wimmer, The Nation

  • "One of the novel's themes is the gap between richand poor in El Salvador. (...) She remains like a character from the soap operas she loves, callous and superficial, just as Castellanos Moya wants her to be. His contempt for her and her class is understandable, but it imposes a limitation on her humanity and hence the intrigue of the story." - Joshua Marcus, Times Literary Supplement

  • "As he has done in other novels, the author builds a case for his tale-teller being more than a little bit paranoid, a condition caused by the degeneracy of her society friends, the church, the government, the military. How can one stay sane, Moya seems to be asking, when all around one there is madness and evil? But Horacio Moya knows better than to deliver his message that bluntly, so he salts the mine with large doses of humor, sex and sarcasm. No one is spared, least of all the dead woman and her self-proclaimed best friend. Upper class Salvadoran society takes it on the chin, over and over and over again." - John Greenya, The Washington Times

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 She-Devil in the Mirror isn't truly a monologue -- on occasion the protagonist, Laura Rivera, does respond to the words and actions of others -- but it does consist solely and entirely of her own words: others are present, and she is ostensibly constantly engaging in some form of dialogue, but her voice is the only one that is heard. (She even asks questions -- the opening line is a question -- but never waits for an answer, uninterested in what anyone else might think.) Stunningly narcissistic, this spoiled and privileged San Salvador society woman barely hears anything she doesn't want to, and has little interest in engaging in anything resembling actual conversation. While in several of the book's nine sections she does report (often in great detail) on conversations she had with other people, Castellanos Moya deliberately presents only her take on those exchanges -- not the actual conversations themselves.
       Laura has a lot to talk about: the story begins with the murder of her good friend, Olga María. There almost from the start, Laura follows the police investigation (led by Deputy Chief Handal -- familiar from Dance with Snakes, as is reporter Rita Mena, who also plays a role here) -- finding fault with every aspect of how it is being conducted. Laura means to protect -- her friend's children, her friend's reputation -- but winds up being little more than annoyingly obstructionist; she's certainly not helpful.
       Laura criticizes everyone and everything -- and as events proceed, finds more to shock and outrage her. There are Olga's affairs, her own affairs, her husband's affairs; there's corruption -- political and otherwise --; there's even a Madoff-like financial scandal that looks set to ruin many of those she knows. Laura is no innocent, and she always thinks she knows best; since she doesn't, she is also forced into artfully changing her spin on things when one version obviously will no longer do and she is forced to embrace another.
       The various stations of Laura's outpourings (which generally also include lots of alcoholic consumption) give a manic tour of San Salvadoran high society life -- albeit from a very limited (though certainly in the know) perspective. Laura tries to maintain control -- as in what information she thinks is fit for police-consumption -- but ultimately proves to have very little; she's a great gossip, and obviously not the only one in town: all the worst news makes the rounds quickly enough.
       The thoroughly unpleasant Laura can be a bit hard to take, but Castellanos Moya handles her quite well. Easily (briefly) distracted by things around her -- she's constantly dropping in words of praise for food, decor, and the like --, she also always barrels on with her stories, a convincingly completely self-obsessed figure. How far that self-obsession goes (and leads) is ultimately revealed, as she realizes that her control doesn't really extend very far and she has to face what she is, confronted with that 'she-devil in the mirror' of the title.
       The She-Devil in the Mirror is a tour de force of sorts, its weaknesses that it's too obviously that, Castellanos Moya riding this manic voice -- and riding it hard -- to the bitter end. He's a good enough writer to pull it off, but Laura's torrent can be hard to take -- and the resolution, though perhaps inevitable, also seems like a somewhat easy out.
       A neat display, with some parts very well done, The She-Devil in the Mirror leaves the reader uneasy -- in many of the right ways, but also a few of the wrong ones.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 November 2009

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The She-Devil in the Mirror: Reviews: Horacio Castellanos Moya: Other books by Horacio Castellanos Moya under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Horacio Castellanos Moya was born in Honduras in 1957 and grew up in El Salvador. He now lives abroad.

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© 2009-2011 the complete review

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