Almudena Grandes: Las edades de Lulú (The Ages of Lulu)
I have always taken the view that my own sex life is endlessly fascinating while everyone else’s is totally boring so, on the whole. I tend not to enjoy erotic novels and films. I think that I can safely say that this is the most erotic/pornographic novel I have ever read. Our heroine is Lulu. Only three people called her that, her real name being Maria Luisa. When we first meet her she is watching a porn film and, as happens throughout the book, we are not spared any of the graphic details. It was intoxicating, she commented.
Early on in the book we see her when she is fifteen. She is the seventh of nine children. She is closest to her brother, Marcelo. Marcelo had a good friend, Pablo, a university lecturer in Spanish literature. Pablo is older than Marcelo (and twelve years older than Lulu). The pair had twice been caught carrying out subversive activities against the Franco government. The first time they got eight months in jail, the second time four years, though they only served thirty months. The first time, the father sent money to Marcelo in jail but adamantly refused to do so the second time, being highly critical of his son’s behaviour. In fact, he did send money but did not tell his family. The then eleven-year old Lulu, however, who wrote to both men, did manage to send money to them, as well as writing to both men. They used the money to pay for sex with a male prostitute.
Lulu’s breakthrough moment came when Pablo took her to a concert, when Marcelo had to drop out at the last minute. It was possible that there was going to be some trouble there as many of the anti-Franco people would be there. There was a bit of fracas at the entrance and Pablo decided to leave. After going to a bar, Pablo essentially throws himself on Lulu in the car but she does not resist. He has her perform oral sex on her and then takes her to his mother’s workshop (she is a fashion designer), where he continues with his sexual activities. This includes undressing and fondling her while he is phoning her brother to tell him that as he had drunk too much and is asleep, and shaving her vaginal labia, which she initially resists and then agrees to. The whole episode has a profound effect on Lulu.
Initially this looks like a one-off but Lulu clearly remains attracted to Pablo She also discovers that her far less attractive sister is also attracted to him. Eventually they get back together and become a couple and even have a child. However, Pablo is still playing his sexual games with her, though she can sometimes hold her own. For example, Lulu, for some reason, does not like the male transvestite prostitutes and encourages Pablo to drive his car at them. On one occasion, having recognised the car, one of them manages to threw a punch at Pablo through the open window, injuring his cheek. Pablo and Lulu get out the car to challenge him but, eventually, they make friends with him – Ely. They go out together and, not surprisingly, sexual activity ensues. Pablo at first resists having Ely perform oral sex on him but eventually he succumbs and they have a jolly threesome.
There are numerous examples of various sexual romps, which eventually include Marcelo and of which we get a blow-by-blow (pun intended) account. However, though still wanting sex, Lulu has now decided to branch out on her own, which means sex with others and not, of course, just straightforward heterosexual sex. It also means, as we saw at the beginning, sex on her own. Fortunately this book was written before the internet so no internet porn but she certainly watches pornographic videos.
So what are her motives? it is clear that, as one of nine, and the seventh at that, she is clearly neglected by her parents, who have little time for her. Her mother tries but has other concerns. Her father remains a very remote figure in this book. So she is looking for love, which she is not getting at home, and finds it, to a certain degree, with Pablo? Does it make her happy? Apparently not though the ending is ambiguously happy.
The book is not feminist. Lulu is essentially – albeit often willingly – abused by her various lovers and is sex-obsessed . She does not strive for women’s rights. Grandes, of course, receive a lot of criticism for this book, particularly from the older generation. She states that the buyers and readers were essentially her generation (she was born in 1960).
For my part, I can say that I did not enjoy it and only continued with it because it has received a lot of acclaim in Spain and appeared in in a list of the 100 best novels in Spanish of the 21st century. I do not think I am a prude but continuos rampant sex in a novel is for me, frankly, boring. Others may have different views.
First published in 1989 by Tusquets
First English publication in 1994 by Abacus/Grove Press
Translated by Sonia Soto