Lucia Etxebarría: Beatriz y los cuerpos celestes [Beatrice and the Heavenly Bodies]
Beatriz is a young Spanish woman who is involved in a Lesbian relationship with Mónica. Things are not always smooth in their relationship. Things are also not smooth in her relationship with her mother. Her father suggests that she go and study in the UK and she agrees. However, as it is late, they can only find a place for her in Edinburgh, so that is where she goes. She is not very happy there. She misses Madrid. She misses Mónica. She misses the Spanish climate. She does not like the (for her) spartan conditions in her dormitory. However, she does work hard and manages to get a scholarship. One day, she goes to a club. It appears to be a Lesbian club but, as she knows no-one, she is unsure what do, so sits at the bar drinking. A tall blonde woman comes in with group of friends and then comes over to the bar . She starts chatting with Beatriz and soon they become friends and then lovers. The woman is called Caitlin, though everybody calls her Cat, both as a shortened form of her name but also because she seems to have feline elegance.
Somewhat surprisingly, Beatriz tells us of suddenly leaving Edinburgh (after four years), abandoning Cat and returning home to Madrid and her difficult mother. It is only after she has gone home, that she tells us in any detail of Cat and her relationship with Cat. In particular, she compares Cat, generally unfavourably, with Mónica, despite the fact that she has had no contact whatsoever with Mónica since she left for Edinburgh, though she had written to her a few times and not received a reply. She, mentions, for example, that when she was staying with Cat, soon after they first met, she is alone in the house, as she had slept on and Cat had left. Looking for some warm clothing, she finds a box and cannot resist opening it. Inside are masses of photos, including several of her, apparently taken from a car. She was completely unaware of the existence of these photos. We also learn that Cat will try any drug that comes her way, and a lot do. She had tried various jobs – including petty theft and working in a peep show. The latter confirmed her resolve never to have sex with a man. However, she was, on the whole, at least as far as as Beatriz was concerned, a decent person. Si a Cat se la amaba por razón de su bondad, a Mónica se la adoraba pese a su aparente maldad. [While I loved Cat for her goodness, I adored Mónica for her apparent evil.] But Cat wanted to be part of a couple, while Beatriz wanted to keep her own identity in a relationship and not be considered as somebody’s partner. In short, in every comparison, Cat came second best.
When she gets home, she starts arguing with her mother at once but she is at least grateful for the comfort of her room. She starts looking for Mónica but both she and her parents seemed to have moved. She eventually tracks down Mónica’s mother, who always disliked Beatriz, seeing her as a bad influence on her daughter. She learns that Mónica has become a heroin addict and has been in a detox unit. However, it is not till the end of the book, that we see the two meeting again. The rest of the book concerns the details of her time with Mónica, particularly the last few months, before she left for Edinburgh, as well as more details of her time in Edinburgh and her early life.
She had known Mónica since school. Both girls come from difficult homes, as we gradually learn, and both are only children. Mónica’s mother, Charo, is a highly successful fashion journalist, who has worked her way up to being editor of a top fashion magazine. She is focussed on her career. Her husband has long since left and gone to Argentina and rarely sees his daughter. Charo has remarried but her new husband is something of a shadowy figure. With Beatriz, her father is a successful lawyer who beats his wife, when he is at home, which is rarely, and has little time for his daughter. Her parents have not slept together since she was conceived. Her mother is an epileptic and has mental health problems. Her aim in life has been to have a daughter who she can bring up as a good Catholic, a good wife and a good mother, in other words, the perfect Spanish woman. Beatriz wants none of these things and, having seen her father’s treatment of her mother, does not want any sort of romantic relationship with a man. Indeed, Beatriz says that her mother can never forgive her for not adoring her. Whether the two girls are influenced by their parent’s marriages is not explicitly delineated but there is no doubt that it has affected them. Beatriz does, however, mention that virtually all her contacts in life have been with women. Her father was rarely at home so she was brought up by her mother. She went to an exclusive girls’ school where contact with boys was strictly forbidden. She had no male friends.
Charo and her husband are away and Mónica is nominally on her own. However, when Beatriz gets to see Mónica, at her parents’ flat, it looks like a pigsty and she seems to be living with Coco. She provides the accommodation and he provides the drugs, seems to be the arrangement. Beatriz essentially moves in with the couple, whose relationship is more practical than sexual. Gradually, she is sucked into the drug-based relationship. Beatriz finds that both are heroin users and this is one of the few things she manages to resist. However, she does use other drugs, when they can get them. She delivers packages for Coco, in one case with almost disastrous consequences. She helps sell amphetamines at a local club, because she is pretty and innocent-looking, and therefore more likely to be able to sell them. She witnesses Coco hold up a man at knife-point and she is in the car when they make their escape. In short, her lifestyle is definitely taking a turn for the worse. More worryingly, her parents do not really seem to care. The hypocrisy of the parents is pointed out, when they find a stash of drugs that Charo uses to keep her thing. Of course, they steal them and sell them. We also learn that Beatriz’s mother is highly drug-dependent.
While this story is going on, we learn more about her stay in Edinburgh, particularly her relationship with a young man called Ralph, who seems to be fairly rich and has an incredible record collection. The relationship seems to be what we might now call friends with benefits. In other words, they are friends and they have sex, but there is never any question of a permanent relationship. Inevitably, it does not work out. Indeed, nothing much works out. The Coco-Beatriz-Mónica relationship ends unpleasantly and, as we know, Beatriz goes off to Edinburgh. She returns, she sees Mónica and life goes on. This is certainly not a fun book, showing, as it does, two young women (three if we count Caitlin) sinking down into a life of casual sex and casual drug usage and none of them clearly happy or contented with her lifestyle but also clearly unsure of what life holds them for them.
First published in Spanish 1998 by Destino
No English translation
Published in Dutch as Beatriz en de hemellichamen by Arena in 2001
Translated by Tineke Hillegers-Zijlmans
Published in French as Beatriz et les corps célestes by Denoël in 2000
Translated by Alexandra Carrasco-Rahal
Published in German as Beatriz und die himmlischen Körper by Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt in 2000
Translated by Catalina Rojas Hauser
Published in Italian as Beatriz e i corpi celesti by Mondadori in 1999
Translated by Roberta Bovaia
Published in Portuguese as Beatriz e os corpos celestes by Notícias in 1999
Translated by Artur Lopes Cardoso
Published in Swedish as Beatriz och himlakropparna by Wahlström & Widstrand in 2008
Translated by Manni Kössler
Also available in Czech