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Carme Riera: Joc de miralls (Mirror Images)

The narrator is a young Spanish student of literature, called Teresa Mascaró (her surname’s similarity to the Spanish máscara and the Catalan mascará is not coincidental). She is writing a thesis on the (fictitious) Latin American writer, Pablo Corbalán. He has been in prison for political reasons for ten years in his home country of Itálica. While Itálica is not Argentina (Riera mentions Argentina as a separate country), the similarities are there, not least the dictator Luzón, who resembles Perón. When she hears that Corbalán is coming to Spain, primarily to speak at a peace conference in Madrid, she is eager to meet him. She waits for him at Barcelona airport when he arrives. He is too tired to talk to reporters but she follows his car and follows him into the hotel where she pretends to be the niece of the manager, and gets an interview. She discusses his work with him – particularly the idea of seduction in his two famous novels. She also asks him about his personal life – his opposition to the government but then his support of the government of General Patiño, for which he was the ambassador in France, and his subsequent opposition to the military government which led to his imprisonment.

While she is trying to get an interview with Corbalán, she makes comparisons between herself and Bettina Brentano, when the latter was trying to get an interview with Goethe. This comparison is repeated for a while and is also an introduction to Corbalán, who appears to be something of an expert on Goethe. She does discuss Corbalán’s two novels with him – Relay, which makes extensive use of mirrors and multiple points of view to deceive the reader and Senseless Day, which was about the opposition to Luzón. Corbalán is off to Madrid for the peace conference so Teresa goes to the airport to meet him there. While there, she hears that he has been found dead in his hotel in Barcelona. At first she is a suspect – while the official story is that it was suicide, the police are sure that it was murder – but she is exonerated and the suspicion falls on the Italican government who clearly wanted to eliminate an unwelcome opponent, not least before he gave a key speech to the peace conference. The speech has, of course, disappeared.

After his death, Relay is reissued in Spain to great success. There is a plan to reissue it in Itálica and Teresa is asked to write the introduction and edit it, a task which she gladly accepts. Celia, the publicist, then phones her and offers her an expenses-paid trip to Itálica to promote the re-issue. Again she gladly accepts, not least as it will enable her to do further research on Corbalán. While there the political situation is gradually deteriorating but Teresa continues her researches. For example, she tries and matches the places in Calipso (the capital city) which feature in Relay with the real places but she is unable to find them, it soon becoming clear that Corbalán has changed the real city. She goes to Venusia, his home town and then to Trebujar where, apparently, his parents had an estate. She finds that they did not. She learns that the estate was owned by the Gallego family – the parents are dead and the son has disappeared, presumably arrested by the government. She speaks to the daughter, now an elderly woman, who says that her brother had written a book, showing that Corbalán did not write Senseless Day. Further researches reveals that some of the other biographical information Corbalán gave Teresa was not accurate. She had been writing to Celia from Itálica. The last letter that Celia receives contains a copy of Gallego’s book and an indication that the dedication that Corbalán had written in her copy of Relay, read Imagine a Moment New Over Time Consisting of Remembrances Brave and Light and Numinous and was an acrostic.

The rest of the book is Gallego’s book, in which Riera gives us several twists and we learn that the title of this book (mirror game in Catalan) and the games Teresa and Corbalán discuss in his book are mirrored (pun intended) in this book. Riera tells a very clever story, showing us that things are not always what they seem and, incidentally, having a dig at Latin American literature. Masks and mirrors and deception are the basis of this novel and it works very well.

Publishing history

First published 1989 by El Club dels Novelòlistes
First English translation by Peter Lang in 1993