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Javier Calvo: Mundo maravilloso (Wonderful World)

This book got decidedly mixed reviews but a punk Spanish novel, heavily influenced by Pink Floyd, was always worth a shot. While it is not bad, it is certainly not great literature and, if you do not like the direct punk style, you will probably be disappointed. It starts with Lorenzo Giraut. It is 1978. He is in a seedy hotel in Camber Sands. It is the favourite holiday resort of Rio Ferdinand, the former England and Manchester United football player, which probably tells you as much as you need to know. Lucas is sitting away from the windows, as he has a fear of windows. He is waiting with his American Connection for his associates to arrive. Unfortunately for Lorenzo, the police arrive first and Lorenzo is arrested. Cut to 2006. Lucas has been dead for three months. His large antique business has been left to his son, Lucas, to the chagrin of Lucas’ mother Estefanía, though more frequently known as Fanny. Lucas’ best friend is Valentina Parini, a twelve-year old Italian girl and self-proclaimed Leading European Expert on the Work of Stephen King. She is eagerly awaiting the forthcoming publication of the latest (and apocryphal) Stephen King novel called Wonderful World, with the fairly un-Stephen King-like plot of a world where everything is wonderful and everyone is happy. However, she has been advised by her school psychologist to keep away from Stephen King, as she has become too obsessed with him. Stephen King references will appear throughout the book, including samples from this new book, and Calvo will even pay a tongue-in-the cheek tribute to him at the end.

There are a few main plot strands in the novel. Firstly, Lucas’ mother and her lawyer, Fonseca, want to take away the antiques business from Lucas. Lucas himself wants to find out who betrayed his father twenty-eight years ago. Lucas also wants the Saint Kieran panels. These are a set of four Celtic panels which Lorenzo was trying to get hold of, when he was arrested. They have been in Ireland but are now to be exhibited in Barcelona by Hannah Linus, a rival of the Girauts. Lucas enlists Bocanegra to help him. Bocanegra is an old associate of Lucas’ father but he may be the one who betrayed Lorenzo. He now owns a fancy restaurant called The Dark Side of the Moon and if you don’t get the Pink Floyd reference, don’t worry as Calvo is going to tell you. He is also not a nice man. To help he has recruited Saudade who most recently has been in charge of valet parking at The Dark Side of the Moon, where Bocanegra decided he was by far the worst employee he had ever had and who shows throughout the novel that he is a psychopath, Aníbal Manta, his top henchman and comic book reader, and Eric Yanel, an actor who is having serious cash flow problems. Meanwhile, Koldo Cruz, who along with Bocanegra and Lorenzo was part of an alliance called The We Don’t Like the Sun Club, is also a suspect. He has a metal plate in his head from when someone tried to blow up his house while he was sleeping, some thirty years ago. We meet him threatening Pavel, known to his friends as Bob Marley, because of his hairstyle and his interest in Rastafarianism, as Pavel is about to have sex with his (Pavel’s) sister. To be fair to Pavel, he was not aware that it was his sister.

It is all great fun and Calvo’s negative view of the world only adds to the fun. There are plots and sub-plots and characters who come in and disappear. No-one has any redeeming features or, if they threaten to do so, they end up whacked by Calvo. Valentina, for example, has plans to kill her classmates but, apart from that, her psychotic behaviour and her obsession with Stephen King, she may be the least unpleasant character in the book. She will pay a price for that. But villains, as various people have rightly pointed out, are much more interesting than the good and Calvo’s novel is littered with villains of all stripes. As long as you do not take them too seriously, this novel is a fun read but certainly not great literature.

Publishing history

First published in 2007 by Mondadori
First English translation in 2009 by Harper
Translated by Mara Lethem