The OF Blog: Tomás Eloy Martínez, El vuelo de la Reina

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tomás Eloy Martínez, El vuelo de la Reina

A eso de las once, como toas las noches, Camargo abre las cortinas de su cuarto en la calle Reconquista, dispone el sillón a un metro de distancia de la ventana para que la penumbra lo proteja, y espera a que la mujer entre en su ángulo de mira.  A veces la ve cruzar como una ráfaga por la ventana de enfrente y desaparecer en el baño o en la cocina.  Lo que a ella más le gusta, sin embargo, es detenerse ante el espejo del dormitorio y desvestirse con suprema lentitud.  Camargo puede contemplarla entonces a su gusto.  Muchos años atrás, en un teatro de variedades de Osaka, vio a una bailarina japonesa despojarse del quimono de ceremonia hasta quedar desnuda por completo.  La mujer de enfrente tiene la misma altiva elegancia de la japonesa y repite las mismas poses de fingido asombro, pero sus movimientos son aún más sensuales.  Inclina la cabeza como si se le hubiera perdido algún recuerdo y, luego de pasarse la punta de los dedos por debajo de los pechos, los lame con delicadeza.  Para no perder ningún detalle, Camargo la observa a través de un telescopio Bushnell de sesenta y siete centímetros que está montado sobre un trípode. (p. 11)

There is a relatively new cliché that obsession is more than a perfume by Calvin Klein.  Yet there is something beguiling, alluring even, about displays of obsession that draws people's attentions.  Perhaps it is our own half-understood realization that we all have our things or people that become our objects of fixation and desire.  Seeing it in others can be revolting as well, as though we are witnesses simultaneously something quasi-criminal and a too-clear reflection of our own most shameful lusts.  Yet, sometimes, we observe, perhaps behind some metaphorical curtains or bushes the obsessed soul in action.  We might feel helpless to resist, but there it lies, waiting for us to see how this obsession will unfold.  Sometimes, it'll be fortuitous, with the obsession transformed into reciprocal love.  Other times (and these can be the most delectable for us, loathe as many of us may be to admit it), the obsession crashes into disaster.

In Argentine writer Tomás Eloy Martínez's 2002 Premio Alfaguara-winning novel El vuelo de la reina (The Flight of the Queen), the reader encounters a disturbing sort of obsession straight from the opening paragraph.  Camargo, the head of Buenos Aires' most influential newspaper, is spying upon a
young woman, a reporter named Reina.  It is not a Romeo espying a Juliet; it is a predator stalking its prey.  Camargo is double Reina's age and furthermore, he has all sorts of power over her:  his ability to block or accelerate her career advancement; his knowledge of an extramarital affair that she had; and his awareness of how precarious her position is in a society that has a double standard when it comes to issues of sex and morality.

It would be too easy to view Camargo as the villian, as after all, he has very few, if any, redeeming personal qualities and his lusts for power and dominance are not exactly heroic.  Yet Eloy Martínez, by having us see events through Camargo's thoughts and actions, forces the reader to confront these detestable qualities head-on.  Camargo is so blinded by his obsession with Reina that he justifies all sorts of nefarious actions in such a fashion that at times it is hard not to feel a smidgen of sympathy for him, controlled as he is by his desires.  But it is in a few scenes with Reina, leading up to the denouement, that we see the full extent of his power plays and the deleterious effects this has on the young woman.  Here is where Camargo's self-delusions and machinations are laid bare and the reader is confronted with the insidious nature of Camargo's actions.  Eloy Martínez manages to execute this so well that when the novel concludes, the reader is left with two wavering images of Camargo, each seeming to elide into the other, with the dissonance serving to illustrate how Camargo's self-image differs from the reader's.

Eloy Martínez's prose is excellent throughout the narrative, and he manages to shape through carefully crafted passages, nuanced portraits of the principal characters.  While Camargo's obsessed, mostly-malevolent character can be distasteful, especially when he is the primary character, Eloy Martínez manages to make other character perspectives feel dynamic and true to life.  Although there are a few moments where the narrative slows down overmuch, for the most part, Eloy Martínez's slow ratcheting up of the narrative tension adds greatly to the story.  While the conclusion might be a little "soft" for some readers, it too fits in with the themes of power and desire that Eloy Martínez explores to great depth here.  El vuelo de la reina is a very good novel, one of Eloy Martínez's best, and it certainly was deserving of its selection as a Premio Alfaguara-winning novel.

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