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Eduardo Mendoza: El rey recibe [The King Receives]

This is apparently the first book of a trilogy entitled Las Tres Leyes del Movimiento [The Three Laws of Motion], covering the main events in Spain of the second half of the twentieth century. As we shall see, Mendoza and his narrator throw in a few references to changes happening in Spain and elsewhere during that period.

The book opens in 1968 in, as usual with Mendoza, Barcelona. Our hero/narrator is Rufo Batalla, he had studied Germanic languages in Barcelona. As we shall see languages are fairly important in this book as not only does Rufo speak English and French, each chapter is headed with a quotation, often in English or French and occasionally German and Catalan, rather than Spanish, starting with one (in English) from Tarzan of the Apes. The source of the quotations is not given so Mendoza is presumably showing off his knowledge while we have to revert to Google.

After his studies he spends a year in London. On return to Barcelona he manages to get a job as a journalist. He has no ambitions to be a journalist – he wants to write novels – but it is a start. Celebrity gossip and associated magazines were just starting in Spain at this time, though tended to be limited to film stars, mainly foreign, royalty and the like. However,he is sent off to Majorca, where a foreign prince is to marry an Anglo-French aristocrat, to cover the wedding.

He arrives the night before, meets a (foreign) damsel in distress, spends some time with her and does not get much sleep so that he is tired the next day. He gets to the wedding, sits down in a deckchair and falls asleep. He is woken by what seem to be police In Spain, in those days, you did not argue with the police. It seems that he has missed the wedding. He is taken away and locked in a room. He is only rescued later that evening when two of the alleged police officers returns with another man who introduces himself as Tadeusz Maria Clementij Tukuulo, Bobby to his friends. He is the prince bridegroom. We learn that he is the Prince of Livonia, currently occupied by the Soviet Union. We learn a great detail about the (fictitious) history of Livonia much later in the book.

We learn Bobby’s story. Though it is his wedding night he seems more interested in our hero than his bride and the two get on well, despite their political differences (Rufo is very left-wing, Bobby very right-wing). Rufo is helped by getting an exclusive interview.

Our hero manages a journey to Czechoslovakia and East Germany where he see for himself the grimness of Communism. Back home he is offered a job running a gossip magazine, which he accepts because it is more money and gives him more freedom.

While this has been going on, we learn about changes in Spain, particularly greater press freedom (though censorship is still in force) and greater sexual freedom. Indeed, he describes his own situation with regard to the latter in some detail.

However, he is not happy in Spain. Spain is dull compared to other parts of Western Europe and North America, so he manages to get a job with the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in New York. We follow his life in New York. He has been warned that New York is dirty and dangerous but also exciting. He seems to find neither. Most of the people he meets are Spanish. He has a messy but not terribly interesting love life. Late in the book he will come into contact with the prince again but, apart from that, not a great deal happens to him. New York had seemed a place full of promise but I spent weeks and months without those promises materialising. He does follow events in the US (Watergate, the Stonewall Riots) but disconnects from Spain, despite most of his colleagues and acquaintances being Spanish.

This was a very disappointing book, compared to his earlier ones. Rufo, by his own admission, is not a very interesting person and he fully lives up to these claims. There is not much of a plot, apart from his essentially dull and dreary life. His three meetings with the prince are not terribly exciting. There is no mystery, compared to the ones in his previous books and the characters in this book are not very interesting, either. Yes, we have as promised, a sort of glimpse of what is going on – Watergate and Stonewall in the US, Spain as dull as ditch water, though we do have the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco. The book has not been translated into another language and, frankly, I am not surprised.

First published 2018 by Seix Barral
No English translation
Published in French as Le roi reçoit in 2021 by Éditions du Seuil,
Translated by Delphine Valentin
Also published in Dutch and Polish