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Monday, November 14, 2011

"A Happy Marriage", love, death and everything else

A Happy Marriage- Rafael Yglesias
This is an example of a novel with the potential of being a masterpiece... that I couldn't really like. Author Rafael Yglesias exposes all, a brave and risky decision that has to be valued, and tell us the story of a marriage (not the most original thing to write about) in a quite refreshing way. But, at least to me, the book never takes off from being a very personal, intimate and sometimes even a bit morbid, take on a particular couple.

In what regards to style and structure, "A Happy Marriage" is an excellent work. Yglesias' prose flows with grace but without any pomposity, sounding real. The book combines two timelines, the first being how Enrique and Margaret meet and started their relationship, and the second, the last days of Margaret's life, as she is dying from cancer. That dual structure shocks at first, and I'm a bit undecided whether I like the brutal contrasts on the tone, from a more lightweight, with hints of comic situations during their first encounters to the depressing (and in my opinion, a bit too detailed) final days of his wife, but then becomes a very interesting and original approach for telling the story of a marriage from its start to the end.

But it is clear the book is more an autobiography of Yglesias' life (he was too hailed as a young masterful writer with his early novels, had success with Hollywood scripts and with a long marriage that ended with the death of his wife in 2004, due to cancer) than just a fiction novel, and to me, that takes its toll on the book. First, because this is, exclusively, the husband's point of view. Enrique Sabas is a pretty well defined character, and Yglesias must be praised to present his alter-ego as a flesh and bone person, with many defects and obsessions. But I can't say the same about the rest of characters. Margaret, the couple kids, her parents, friends, aren't very far from being sketches.

Second, and something that made me question even to continue reading the book a couple of times is the need of detailing everything. Do we really need to know everything about how Margaret’s deals with her terminal illness? Does it add something to the novel? Why is that relevant? Is not pure morbid curiosity? Sure, that's just my opinion, but I don't see the point of carefully writing about the colour of the food that can be seen through the tubes that Margaret is connected with. In that sense, a few passages of "A Happy Marriage" seemed to me "masturbatory". Sorry if it seems an angry criticism, but to me the whole point of such a personal book is to reach emotional impact through the identification of the reader with the characters and their situations. Cancer, love, disappointment, betrayal, loss... Familiar topics for many, but with "A Happy Marriage" I couldn't empathize with the characters, in particular with Enrique. And that builds a distance between the book and the reader. A distance that, like in relations, ruins the final result.

SCORE: 5,25/10

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