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Miguel Ildefonso: Hotel Lima [Hotel Lima]

Miguel Ildefonso has long had an interest in marginal communities and, in particular, in literature, especially as regards what are often called poètes maudits. In English, we night call them underground writers or, simply neglected writers. We can see this in his poetry but also in this novel.

The hero/narrator is called Dante, though we do not learn that till well into the book. The time is the late 1990s. Like the Dante of literature he descends into a sort of hell but the hell is merely the seedier parts of Lima, where we find prostitutes, drug dealers and the like, but also our poètes maudits, of which Dante is one. He has no Virgil to guide him or, rather, no one Virgil but various artists, writers and women show him the way.

We first meet him when he is sitting on a bench in an alcoholic stupor. We learn that he had written two successful novels but had not written anything for some time. Critics were divided on whether this was because his genius had faded or because he had become an alcoholic. While sitting on the bench, a young woman, Rosa, comes and sits opposite him. She is, in his view, the ugliest woman he has ever seen. She offers him a cigarette and then invites him to her house. There, she gives him an anis drink. He is impressed with her house, as there are posters on the wall of some of his favourite writers – Joyce, Rimbaud, Baudelaire – and, scattered around, lots of old and rare-looking books.

Inevitably, they have sex and then, to his surprise, she invites him to live there, saying that he can write in peace and that she guarantees that he will not be disturbed. It turns out that she is part of a secret organisation of poets and writers. They plant bombs – he had been hearing such bombs going off for a while and did not know what was the cause – and, instead of leaving political slogans, they leave lines of poetry. She falls asleep and he surreptitiously leaves without taking up her offer. He will later see her photo in a newspaper. She was killed in a violent confrontation with the police. We will come across the group several times during the course of the book, not least because they have far-reaching plans to expand to other countries. It is called Not-Poetry.

During the course of the book we will meet several other women with whom he is involved. Many of them have names from literary characters. There is his childhood friend, Silvia, whom he spends much of his time with, and whom he tells his mother, he wants to marry. Her family suddenly move and she leaves without saying goodbye. He thinks he sees her later, during the course of the book, but it may just be his imagination, overactive because of the alcohol. There is the strange Laura, whom we first meet shoplifting a book of poetry by Luis Hernández (link in Spanish). Hernández is one of the key influences of both Ildefonso and Dante (the Dante in this book) and we will come across him again. He and Laura go often to the cinema together to see the films of Godard, Buñuel, Fellini and the like. He says of her she lived in another reality while she says to him you’re only a spectator of yourself .

Emma was married to a soldier who used to beat her up and he helps her out, while Lolita, probably not her real name, is a prostitute he visits . There is Virginia, a vegetarian, with whom he has a child they name Hannibal. As well as these real women, he conjures up many fictitious women, from Molly Bloom to Isolde to Georgette Vallejo, wife of the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, who is along with Luis Hernández, one of his literary heroes.

The book is called Hotel Lima and this is a key reference point though by the time of this novel it has been destroyed. He often sees and passes it by. It is key, as it was the last home of another hero, the peripatetic Peruvian expressionist painter Víctor Humareda. He was an artiste maudit, never settling in one place and not having a great deal of success during his life. One of his guiding influences was Marilyn Monroe. He painted her. (No, I don’t think it looks like her, either.) He was obsessed with her: Estoy casado con Marilyn Monroe. No tenemos hijos, vivo solo con ella en mi hotel. Nunca me habla ni yo la toco. Solo la contemplo. [I am married to Marilyn Monroe. We do not have any children. I live alone with her in my hotel [i.e. the Hotel Lima]. She never speaks to me and nor do I touch her. I only contemplate her.] There is even a poem in the book, allegedly by Humareda, in which he says that he meets Marilyn Monroe in a lift but they do not speak.

Ildefonso is primarily a poet and this novel is, to a great extent, a poet’s novel, with Dante and various Peruvian poets and one Peruvian artist as its guiding lights. We follow Dante through the seedier parts of Lima but we also follow his various influences, all of whom are maudit like him. Even his musical influences are somewhat maudit – The Cure, Lou Reed, Radiohead, Morrrisey. It is certainly a very accomplished and interesting novel about the deeper recesses of Peru, of a writer’s mind and of the artistes maudits of Peru. Sadly, it has not been translated into any other language.

Publishing history

First published by Editora Mesa Redonda in 2006
No English translation