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Efraim Medina Reyes: Técnicas de masturbación entre Batman y Robin [Techniques of Masturbation between Batman and Robin]

Efraim Medina Reyes has been hailed as one of the new Colombian generation, with a writing style that is much more urban, much more sexual and much less plot-driven than the generation of García Márquez. The book starts off with a series of snippets by Medina Reyes’ alter ego, Sergio Bocafloja. (Bocafloja means loose mouth and he says that he is so called because people have accused him of speaking too much, though he adds that his accusers also speak too much.) The snippets consist of anecdotes about his various friends and various comments, with both the anecdotes and comments invariably concerning sex and the relationships between the sexes. He takes what might be described as either a brutally honest or cynical point of view on the topic, with both the men and the women being both highly critical of the opposite sex as well as seeing them primarily to satisfy their own sexual desires.

We then move onto Sergio’s story. He is a novelist but, by his own admission, not a very successful one. Hs first novel, he says, has only sold six copies and his friends mildly mock him about it. To earn a living, he works in advertising. One day, while he is out, he sees a woman who seems to be in distress. He goes to help her. He eventually learns that she has been raped but does not want to report it, as she knows the assailants. Indeed, one of them is the son of her boss and she does not want to risk her job. Moreover, she does not want her mother to know, as her mother is frail, partially because of the recent death of her son, the young woman’s brother. He takes her back to his flat and lets her shower and change, before taking her home. He is clearly attracted to her but does not pursue the issue and never expects to see her again. A few months later, when it is pouring with rain, she turns up at his door, with a suitcase, and announces that she has come to stay. He is overjoyed. They start a relationship but it is difficult for him. She is very independent and he knows very little about her. Indeed, when, some ten month later, she disappears, he cannot report it as he does not even know her surname. She turns up again, bloody and bruised but refuses to talk about it. This happens again on more than one occasion. Eventually, she leaves him for a poet called Villon.

He decides to move away and goes off to Bogota, where he stays for several months, though he starts having financial difficulties and has to move to less glamorous lodgings. While he has been telling us this story, he has been mixing in accounts of his earlier life and, in particular, his difficult relationship with his mother. Since moving to Bogota, he had not contacted her. However,he is contacted by a friend, who says that this mother is ill and he then reluctantly phones her and then decides to return to Cartagena. He resumes his difficult relationship with his mother but, of course, immediately bumps into Marianne. He wants to resume their relationship but she is not interested. However, he does resume his relationships with his friends, particularly the misogynistic Rep but also the Quebecoise, Mapi, the French woman, Flog, and other assorted characters. He struggles with his writing – he wants to write a novel but does not know what he wants to write about and, presumably, ends up writing this novel, which is about nothing much.

To liven things up, we continually get interruptions in the narrative. There are several mini-film scripts, including one called Técnicas de masturbación entre Batman y Robin [Techniques of Masturbation between Batman and Robin] (and one called Singing in the Rain). While the Batman one does feature Batman or, rather, a woman called Angela dressed as Batman and his friend Ana dressed as Robin, going to a fancy dress party in New York, it does not feature masturbation or, indeed, much of anything else. There is a section called Instructions for Training Mammals and one called Mechanics of Seduction, which is intended to give a guide to how to seduce a woman. What is the point? I am not really sure.

Medina Reyes has been hailed as the bright new star of Colombian literature. While he is certainly no García Márquez, this does not go in his favour. He has also been called the new Bukowski but, again, I do not really see it. While there clearly is a story – Sergio Bocafloja trying to find himself, shake off his difficult past, become a writer and find true love and failing at all four – it is neither particularly original or particularly well told. Yes, no doubt, the younger generation of Colombians do feel lost and adrift, particularly with what has gone on in their country (though drugs hardly feature in this novel) and Medina Reyes undoubtedly wants to convey this but, for me, it does not really work well and, for once, I can see why a Latin American has not been translated into English.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish 2002 by Ediciones Destino, Barcelona
No English translation
Published in Italian as Tecniche di masturbazione fra Batman e Robin in 2004 by Feltrinelli
Translated by Gina Maneri
Published in Portuguese as Técnicas de masturbação entre Batman e Robin in 2004 by Planeta
Translated by Luís Reyes Gil