D Reading Room Presents Wonderful World by Javier Calvo
The discussion starts now, so jump in. We have a lot to talk about.
Welcome to D Reading Room, the online book club for people who like to read and riff about books. Our first title is Wonderful World by Javier Calvo, and it’s a fast ride. Some might say a bumpy ride. We say, let’s spend the next few months doing our best imitation of Michiko Kakutani and look at this book every which way. Calvo is one of Spain’s best new writers, and this is his first English translation. In the literary world, for what it is worth, this guy is hot stuff.
The plot: Lucas Giraut wants to earn his dead dad’s approval by becoming a criminal. He has a 12-year-old neighbor, who is obsessed with Stephen King. Operatic in a Pulp Fiction kind of way, people kill and get killed, have sex, hate mom, wear fine Italian clothes, and ponder life.
Why we chose it: Legacy Books gave us a list of possible books, and we basically ruled out anything that smelled of an Oprah selection. Then we flipped a coin.
Recommended side trip: Check out Javier Calvo’s MySpace page. Bring a flashlight.
Chapters 1-6: In the prologue we meet Lorenzo Giraut, the most important antiques dealer in Spain, a man with a “window illness,” whose Life As He Knows It Ends in a hotel in Camber Sands. Flash forward to chapter one, where the author introduces the main characters—well, some of them. One, Miss Valentina Parini, age 12, lives in Barcelona in the same building as Lorenzo’s son, Lucas. Other characters: Blondie Eric Yanel, a two-bit actor, and his fiancée, Iris Gonzalvo, who wishes she were a two-bit actor but is really an occasional porn star. Actually, she’s an aging porn star; she is 25. We meet Estefania “Fanny” Girault, Lucas’s Paper City-faced mother, who wants to take all of her son’s inheritance—the antiques conglomerate—away from him. We meet Mr. Bocanegra, whom Lucas has hired to “acquire” some paintings, along with Bocanegra’s crew, which is hired to perform the first “acquisition.”
Christine: I think we all agree this book is by a storyteller who either has a compulsive speech pattern that requires him to repeat himself, or he’s a man with a screenwriter’s gift for rhythm and voice. To be honest, just a few pages into it, I wanted to call Calvo’s editor and get an explanation. Then I remembered there are no editors left in book publishing. I also remembered that this is a 470-page book, and there is no mileage in being picky picky picky in the first book club meeting. So I decided to listen to the book. Figuratively. Figuratively listen to the book. Which was a good call. (Who am I?) Meanwhile, having cheated and read way past the first few chapters, I can tell you the book starts to rock and roll as you get into it. So if you are wondering about the repeating thing, and the indiscriminate use of the word “namby pamby,” it gets better. Way better. I’m psyched.
Discuss in the comments section below:
1. Does Calvo’s style (Pete and Repeat) remind you of any other writer?
2. The stage direction and dialogue make this a book you hear and see. So, for the movie, who plays Lucas Giraut?
3. Is there a psychologist in the house? Is there a clinical diagnosis for people who don’t like windows? I had a friend who, after he lost his job, bought shades for the entire house and kept them rolled down. Is this a common neurosis? Or was I living with Lorenzo Giraut and didn’t know it?
4. Chime in with thoughts, reactions, jibes, insights.
Laura: Christine, I’m with you. I was highlighting all of the weird sentence fragments when I began reading, and I had to stop. I found that reading it out loud helped me notice it less. Anyway, here’s why I’m excited about the story: I love Stephen King. I know it’s not cool to admit that, but I fell in love with his short stories when I was in high school. Pet Semetary kept me up more than a few nights, and The Shining remains one of my favorites. So I love that 12-year-old Valentina is obsessed with him. I get it.
But my favorite characters in the book (so far) are Eric and Iris. They are a beautiful couple staying at a beautiful hotel. Eric is described: “His habit of wearing penny loafers without socks isn’t a particularly French trait, but along with the fondness for polo shirts and his long, blond, very coiffed wavy hair, helps to distinguish him as a member, or at least a descendant, of the French rural upper class.” I love that passage. But things are not as they seem with this gorgeous duo. They don’t seem to like one another, and they can’t actually afford the hotel. So Dallas, right?
I think Benicio Del Toro should play Lucas Giraut.
Peggy: I agree. At first the writing style drove me crazy. It reminded me of Dr. Seuss in the way he keeps repeating phrases. Then I picked up a Charles Dickens book to see why Calvo considers himself the ghost of Dickens. I didn’t get that, either, because Dickens’ sentences are long, with multiple commas, and Calvo just uses periods. Then I started reading it like a play—or, better yet, like the dramatic words on the screen in an old silent movie. Can’t you just see those capitalized descriptions with the cheesy music? Lucas with his namby pamby ways. Valentina, whose face looks like a tree dwelling monkey. Bocanegra with his intrinsically cruel face and faintly feminine coat. I can’t wait for the next matinee! I love Eric and Iris too. They are such perfect stereotypes of the loser rich kid and the porn star who’s really an actress. But I disagree with you, Laura. Benicio del Toro is way too hot. I think Kevin Spacey should be Lucas Giraut, and Faye Dunaway should play Fanny Giraut. Think about Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, when he was working at the hamburger joint and his wife, Annette Bening, showed up with her lover. Perfect namby-pamby, I think.
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