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Ada Castells: Mirada [Look]

A novel that starts off with a character telling us that he has been dead for a year and then describing his life as a ghost (you can’t lose weight as you don’t eat so if you were fat before, you are fat when you are a ghost) is not one that would normally appeal me but as this approach is certainly different from the usual Catalan novels, referencing Franco and the Civil War or looking back to the past, I stuck with it.

It turns out to be something of a post-modernist novel with possibly more than one unreliable narrator. The ghost used to be a detective called Mariscal. He was overweight and lazy. He inherited the detective agency from his uncle. His mother had persuaded him to take it over, as he did not seem to do anything. The agency dealt with marital infidelity, missing children and the like. As Mariscal is lazy, he is only interested in following people in his car and then sitting in the car, doing crosswords.

He has not had success with women in his life. He used to follow them, wearing sunglasses, which gave him the impression that they could not see him following them. This was reinforced by the fact that they tended to ignore him, anyway. One woman he followed, Merche, suddenly stopped when he was following her and told him to give her a light. The relationship did not work well though they did marry. However, she soon left him for another man and he has now discovered that, since his death, the man has taken over his old office. Mariscal has spied on him and caught him masturbating in the office in front of the mirror.

However, what led to Mariscal’s death was Blanca Simón. Enric Arnau came to Mariscal’s office and told him that his wife – Blanca – had run away with his business partner and he wanted Mariscal to track him down. A couple of phone calls soon elicited the information that Arnau was lying – the couple were not married, he merely wanted to use her in his upmarket disco. Blanca is a model and very attractive and once Mariscal saw her he was smitten. He decides to spy on her for his own account. She seems to be having an affair with a man and Mariscal goes to the hotel to spy on her. The hotel is being repaired and, conveniently, has scaffolding. Mariscal climbs the scaffolding and tries to lean out beyond the scaffolding to see into their room. But Mariscal is clumsy and overweight. He slips and falls to his death. Hence the ghost.

He has been spying on Blanca since then. The man she was with in the hotel was Toni, a Frenchman. They had broken off because of the suicide of the man at the hotel (i.e. Mariscal’s fall) but Toni has now found her sunbathing on a remote beach. They go bathing – Mariscal finds it difficult to go in the sea as a ghost but manages – and catches them having sex. He also sees a small growth in the shape of a hook on her shoulder. She had not noticed it but Toni had. She phones her father, a doctor, who says she must come in and have it examined at once but she delays doing so.

However, Mariscal is an unreliable narrator and we soon hear from another narrator – a woman who says that she is his wife and that the dead detective story is just that – a detective story, written by her husband, who writes detective stories. Previously, he had written normal detective stories but now he is writing what she calls this mad story, using her as a model, and she is not amused.

We follow Blanca’s story as she does finally get a biopsy on the growth. Mariscal follows her the whole time, despite admonitions from his superior angel. She has to wait for the results. Her father is reluctant to give her any details but insists that it is important that she stays out of the light.

Blanca is naturally depressed by the whole incident, which is not helped by the fact that she senses another presence, namely Mariscal. She stays, vampire-like, in the dark but then decides that she wants to work and goes to Enric Arnau for a job in his club. Initially she works as a barmaid but then graduates to becoming an exotic dancer.

In the meantime, Mariscal’s real wife is getting increasingly upset with his novel. She too has a growth and assumes it has made Mariscal behave in this strange way. She manages to get hold of the text and edits it. Finally, she goes to the publisher and persuades her that she must agree to certain terms if she does not want to risk a lawsuit. The publisher agrees.

Blanca is looking forward to dancing but then, as she is almost naked, the lights shine on her. She rushes to toilet, where the lights are also on, looks at herself in the mirror and sees nothing. She is invisible.

Of course, part of this story, as the title tells us, is that Blanca has managed to make her way on her looks but, now that she cannot be seen in the light, her whole life has changed. Of course, it seems highly likely that this Blanca is merely a figment of Mariscal’s fertile mind.

This is certainly a clever book, with its own twists and a criticism of people who live only for their appearance and do not enjoy a life of the mind. Given that the other characters in this book are, for the most part, less than model citizens, it might seem unfair only to condemn Blanca.

First published by Empúries in 2001
No English translation
First published in Spanish as Mirada by Anagrama in 2001
Translated by Flavia Company