Friday, 4 November 2011

the she-devil in the mirror [horacio castellanos moya]

Moya's book is a jaunty read, told from the perspective of a young woman immersed in the baroque world of El Salvadorean high society. When a friend of hers is murdered she takes it upon herself to try and discover the real killer, having no confidence in the police chief. The fact that her friend was involved in a series of vapid affairs with a selection of San Salvador's movers and shakers means that the list of potential killers is a long one. It also means that the more Laura, the narrator, mouths off about it, the more danger she places herself in. The fact that she is too blasé and privileged to realise this adds to the sense of impending doom.

The book consists of several breathy chapters, each of them a monologue by Laura to her supposed friend. One can't help suspecting that a great deal of nuance is lost in translation, as she intersperses her theories with observations about society: the malls she meets her friend in; the church; the press, etc. There's nothing sympathetic about Laura and it's clear we're not supposed to like her much. Rather the author is setting out to skewer an elite, to hoist them on their own petard. The book, published in 2000, looks at the way El Salvador, even post-dictatorship, continues to be run by a wealthy, corrupt section of society. There's a quote from Bolano on the front cover of my edition saying Mora is the only writer of his generation who "knows how to narrate the horror, the secret Vietnam that Latin America was for a long time." I'm not sure She-Devil in the Mirror quite lives up to that billing, maybe his other books do, but nevertheless it's an enjoyable, satirical, eminently readable take on a country which had a long way to go before recovering from the crimes of the late twentieth century.

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