D Reading Room Presents Wonderful World by Javier Calvo
Part 2: Chapters 7-15
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.
Fanny Giraut, who feels only contempt for her late husband and her son, is celebrating her birthday at Barcelona’s Gran Hotel La Florida. (Google the image; it actually exists.) At the b-day party, Lucas is once again pressured to sign over his rights to the antiques business his father bequeathed to him. He resists with aplomb, sort of David Niven meets Dr. Evil. Valentina is there too—preoccupied—because she’s in trouble at school. Cut to the Russian thug, Pavel, who unwittingly rapes his sister in a scene about which we are still shaking our heads. Meanwhile, Mr. Bocanegra, Lucas’s new partner, briefs his team—Anibal Manta, Eric Yanel, and Juan de la Cruz Saudade—on a new caper. He gives an inspirational speech that pretty much explains Calvo’s affection for his own characters: “We have dreams. We haven’t given up that part of our lives. That’s why we steal.” We are also introduced to Hannah Linus and her gallery of Renaissance and Baroque art.
Christine: I saw Public Enemies a few weeks ago and came away wondering if I could possibly have cared less about the characters. When a story is composed of criminals and lowlifes, the audience has to know more about the characters than the crimes they commit. I credit Calvo here. In Wonderful World, I like the characters even when they repulse me. The people in this book are all crackpots, but they are also invested in responding to their lots in life and creating meaning. For Lucas, it is a matter of sorting out his father and his familial legacy. Valentina has no father but does have a king—well, Stephen King.
Discuss in the comments section below:
1. What makes meaning for the other characters?
2. What grammatical error is driving you crazy?
3. Will you ever look at an ice cream cone in the same way?
4. What do you think the cover image on the book jacket references? (Possibility: p. 64?)
Laura: Parental discretion is certainly advised this week, because everyone seems to be having sex. The burning question is, who should play Juan de la Cruz Saudade? Everyone wants this guy even though he walks around town in an Umbro sweatsuit. Sex doesn’t always go well in this book; in fact, it pretty much goes poorly every time. We visit poor Iris Gonzalvo on a porn set, where she’s accused of being a terrible actress and—worse—old and not hot. She doesn’t take these criticisms well, opting to put out a cigarette on the production company owner’s cheek to thwart his sexual advances. Would-be assassin Pavel decides to add a little rape to his job and ends up having sex with his sister, who apparently is engaged to his target. Cool gallery owner Hannah Linus gets seduced by the aforementioned Saudade, and well, we know that’s not going to end well, because he’s planning to rob her gallery blind. Even big, fat comic book-loving Aníbal Manta gets to have sex. But he starts thinking about therapy, comic books, and his partner-in-crime Saudade’s refusal to have real, meaningful conversation and sort of peters out.
So, sex in Wonderful World: not necessarily a good thing.
We also got to spend a little more time with Valentina, who is attending what appears to be the world’s meanest school. The teachers are crueler than her peers. I sort of want Lucas to marry her mother, just so he can be her stepdad.
So, I’m getting more curious about Apartment 13. And it looks like the Stephen King element will become more pronounced next week. I suppose we’ll learn more about the heist. And I’m ready for Lucas Giraut to tell his mother to go to hell. I would also like to spend a little more time with Hannah. She’s the kind of cool I always imagined myself to be until I walk by the mirror and see that my roots need tending and my zipper is down.
Peggy: I’m beginning to really like Lucas Giraut and his twisted sense of humor. He hires a four-piece mariachi band for the “unnumbered” (repeated four times) birthday party of his evil mother. (I mean, who really likes mariachi bands wailing about the death of Emiliano Zapata, liberator of the poor?) The aforementioned evil mother and her sycophantic lawyer have completely underestimated Lucas Giraut as he starts taking control of his father’s company and planning the art heist that will restore the gallery to its former glory.
It seems that Giraut is gaining confidence as we read. He even explores the mysterious Apartment 13, where his father went to escape his mother’s abuse. He has poignant descriptions of all the journals he, as a lonely preteen, filled with imaginary drawings of what he thought was in the hidden space. When he finally sees it, it is just a windowless room. His lonely youth is probably why he has bonded with Valentina, who is about as friendless as anyone. He even goes to a basketball game where we see how truly mean everyone is to her.
I get such a kick out of Calvo’s descriptions of people and places—first through repetition, then though subtle comments that let your imagination see the person or place. Of course the mother gets special treatment; her voice is described in three increasingly horrible phrases: “the sound of a 100-year-old tree splitting a roof,” then “splitting a roof and splitting the floor below,” then “pieces of jet fuselage splitting roofs.” I can also imagine Saudade strutting around in his Umbro sweatsuit thinking he looks cool. Or the low-budget production set with moth-eaten curtains taken from an old theater and gauzy curtains adorned with sequins. “Elements trying to represent opulence without any experience of opulence.”
All the characters are starting to come together as the plot develops little by little. Poor, broke Eric is going to be in on the art heist with Saudade and fat Manta. Would-be Russian rapist Pavel, with his Bob Marley t-shirt and pointy dreadlocks, is going to be in on it, too, because Saudade says he doesn’t mind working with Russians but he doesn’t trust rich kid Eric. Iris keeps coming back in too, while Eric supplies the porn director with coke. I agree with you, Laura; she is turning out to be really interesting. I loved it when she put out the cigarette on that slimy guy’s face.
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