One member described the book as having four layers which all wove together: the dialogue between the two main characters; the films; the amusing sections in italics and the accompanying footnotes.
Some members had read the book before and / or had seen the film adaption. One of these members commented that, on second reading and knowing the ‘surprise’, the book doesn’t have the same impact as it had on the initial read. However another member had forgotten about the twist and was pleasantly surprised by it, despite having read the book before.
Another added that this time round they struggled with the novel and another that they were ‘conscious’ they had to finish the book whilst reading it. Yet another didn’t think they were going to reach the end of the novel and another still commented that they were engaged with the story initially, but that their engagement wore off as the story progressed.
Having seen and loved the film, but not having read the book, One member found the first half of the book hard going, but was struck by the skilful evocation of the novel, the power of its storytelling and noted its political angle. Another, who had neither read the book nor seen the film, stated that they found it difficult to perceive the novel as a film.
Two of the stylistic devices employed by the author, the inclusion of numerous explanatory footnotes and the lengthy retelling of film plots, prompted a lot of discussion; both seemed to divide the group.
Whilst one member felt that the lengthy film plots partially eclipsed the narrative of the main story, with another stating that the ‘films’ “didn’t half go on”, another, being a film lover, really enjoyed the inclusion of the film plots, especially the different things picked up from the films by Molina.
It was noted that the stories told by Molina were taken from real films and the plots were supposedly pertinent to the main narrative of the novel, however, this was not understood or appreciated in full by the group.
One member claimed to have been made really angry by the footnotes, feeling they were wasting their time by reading them and gave up. Another member quickly realised they didn’t add much to the story and didn’t bother reading them. Conversely, another member found them to be a playful literary device, that they were fun.
It was revealed part way through the discussion, to some surprise, that, whilst some of the notes were factual, others were just made up. Most of the group had trusted the footnotes and had believed them to be as factually sound as they appeared. Indeed it was felt that the content of the footnotes would have easily duped the Argentinian readers of the time, due to the predominant culture, who would have believed every word of them. One member wondered how much the author himself believed the footnotes.
A member asked whether the footnotes matched the story in some way and questioned whether the story drove the footnotes, or whether it was the other way round.
Referencing the American novelist John Foster Wallace, a member suggested Puig employed this literary trope in order to convey a number of intertwined things, without detracting from the novel itself.
As far as the overall style of the book was concerned; one member expressed their annoyance of the italicised passages, the stream of conscious narrative and the repetitive use of nouns, such as ‘the mother’ and ‘the man’.
The novel was summed up by a member who claimed that the author was trying to be too clever in the novel. Another countered that this attempt wasn’t very effective as most of the group didn’t understand it.
There was a lot of interest in the relationship between the two main characters, with one member commenting that they were really interested in the dialogue between them. Other members found the relationship touching and moving, that their care for each other, dealing with shit, willingly suggests a great deal of affection or love between the two.
It was thought that the conflict between the characters got in the way of their relationship and the emotions they felt about each other. Yet another opinion was that it easy to get caught up in the polarity of the betrayal and the love the characters had for each other, but these things are just the nature of humanity.
The reason for Molina’s incarceration was raised and it was felt that he was imprisoned on trumped up charges, as he doesn’t seem the kind to go for minors (the start/stop relationship with the waiter Molina periodically references indicates this). It was also noted that he didn’t protest his innocence throughout the novel, nor show any anger about the charge or punishment.
Valentine was considered by some to be a vessel for political change; however, Valentin’s ability to look after and to have sex with Molina was his opportunity to transcend his political stance. One member added that the ‘gay man’ of the novel is far more revolutionary than the revolutionary prisoner. Another mentioned the exchanges between the characters towards the end of the novel, noting that Valentin was exploiting the situation just as much as Molina; that the political end was more important than his own feelings towards Molina.
It was however concluded that both characters were shafted by the system. One member added that the monitoring report was sinister, yet funny, that everything was written factually as if they had no idea what was going on.
She has her legs crossed, her shoes are black, thick high heels, open toed, with dark-polished toenails sticking out. Her stockings glitter, that kind they turned inside out when the sheen went out of style, her legs look flushed and silky
“Your reality, isn’t restricted by this cell we live in. If you read something, if you study something, you transcend any cell you’re inside of”
“The nicest thing about feeling happy is that you think you’ll never be unhappy again.”
“- But you have to reason it out then and convince yourself.
– Yes, but there are reasons of the heart that reason doesn’t encompass.”
“–And the good thing about feeling happy, you know, Valentin? …It’s that you think it’s forever, that one’s never ever going to feel unhappy again.”
“- And what’s so bad about being soft like a woman? Why is it men or whoever, some poor bastard, some queen, can’t be sensitive too, if he’s got a mind to?
– But if men acted like women there wouldn’t be anymore torturers.”
“Say it, like a woman, that’s what you were going to say”
“I think that I have to know more about you, that’s what, in order to understand you better. If we’re going to be in this cell together like this, we ought to understand one another better, and I know very little about people with your type of inclination”
“Valentin, I’m telling you. I don’t want to hear a word of it. Not where they are, not who they are, nothing!”
“Marta, how much I wish it with all my heart, let’s hope that he may have died happily”
“the only one who knows for sure is him, if he was sad or happy to die that way, sacrificing himself for a just cause, because he’s the only one who will ever have known”
Yes, and I don’t care if you laugh…..it makes people laugh to say it, but what’s got to happen more than anything…is change in the world.”
. and I fought, from the moment I possessed a little understanding of things . . . fought against the exploitation of my fellow man . . . And I’ve always cursed all religions, because they simply confuse people and prevent them from fighting for any kind of equality . . . but now I find myself thirsting for some kind of justice . . . divine justice. I’m asking that there be a God . . . Write it with a capital G, Molina, please . . .
. . . a God who sees me, and helps me, because I want to be able, someday, to walk down streets again, and I want that day to come soon, and I don’t want to die.
Valentin on embroidering
“If you can embroider, why can’t I too?”
Molina on the cold/prison
“The cold wakes her up. Just like us”
Valentin’s Marxist-feminist view on Irena’s mother
“I see her as impeccably attired…she has that…little touch of coquetishness”
Molina on escapism/forgetting about the cell
“until you brought this up I was feeling fabulous, I’d forgotten about this filthy cell”
Molina’s post-modernist awareness on fiction/cliff-hangers
“you have to do it that way with the public otherwise they’re not satisfied. On the radio they always used to do that to you. And now on the TV soaps”
Valentin’s dedication to the political struggle
“there’s no way I can live for the moment, because my life is dedicated to the political struggle”
Molina on feminimity
“and what’s so bad about being soft like a woman?”
Warden’s enquiry about Valentin
“Have we softened him up a little?”
Valentin finally softening up a little
“I want you to…give me…some word of comfort”
Molina on the two roles switching in love-making scene
“Or like I wasn’t me anymore. As if now…I were you”
Molina on ebroidering
“well, to some extent I have to embroider a little”
Molina’s femininity in reference to he and his friends
“Don’t call me Valentina, I’m no woman”
Molina’s highly romanticized description
“he caressed the lettuce leaves, and the tomatoes, but nothing softly about it- how can I put it? They were such powerful moment, and so elegant and soft, and masculine at the same time”
Valentin on Molina as the spider woman
“You, you’re the spider woman that traps men in her web”
Police document on Molina
“Of the wounded, Molina expired”
Valentin’s final thoughts
“This dream is short but this dream is happy”