Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Mona by Pola Oloixarac: A review

 

How do I even begin to review this book? How can I sum it up? It is an Argentinian writer writing about a Peruvian writer who lives in California and is nominated for a prestigious Scandinavian literary award so she travels to a small gray village in Sweden near the Arctic Circle where she hobnobs with other writers from around the world all of whom seem to engage in the insufferable and self-important behavior that one might expect from a group of pretentious posers. It is (I think) meant to be a satire on literary festivals and prizes and in that regard, it is quite successful. It is somewhat less successful in making the namesake narrator known to us but that may be because that narrator doesn't really know herself.

Here's what we know about Mona: She is a prolific user of drink and drugs to the point where she loses herself and loses memory. On the day she is to fly out for the Scandinavian literary festival, she wakes up with extensive bruises on her body and no memory of how they came to be there. She is apparently involved with two different men one of whom may - or may not - be responsible for the bruising. Throughout the days that follow she will be receiving texts from these men, some of them threatening, and she ignores them all. During the festival, she takes care to hide her bruises but she is haunted by the fact that she cannot remember how she got them. Her affect is cynical and sardonic. She presents a tough gal exterior to the world but underneath all that she is a mess and she keeps getting flashes of a violence which she cannot explain.

The depiction of the international set of writers at the festival is often quite amusing. The writer employs stereotypes of many of the nationalities represented such as the Japanese, French, Colombian, Swedish, Icelandic, etc., for comic effect. Mona herself cannot quite believe that she belongs in such company and that she has been nominated for the prestigious prize. She has no expectation that she will actually win and she continues to be tormented by demons that she can't really understand.

Oloixarac gives us a unique view of the literary world and a memorable character study of a disaffected writer. There was much that I really enjoyed about the book but in the end, I felt that the narrative didn't quite come together. The descriptive style became a bit vexatious, including the extensive use of stereotypes, and I found the ending less than satisfactory. I had not read Oloixarac before. This is her third book and her first one, Savage Theories, in particular, was highly praised. She is a talented writer and I would be interested in reading more of her work. 

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

10 comments:

  1. Not your A-1 seal of approval, Dorothy!

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  2. How did you hear of this one? I have not seen it or this author. But I like the aspect of the satirical look at literary prizes etc. Some parts seem like they'd be amusing ...

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    1. I saw a review of it - I think it was in the Times - and was intrigued by it so added it to my read list. And I'm glad I read it even though I had some problems with it. On the whole, it was an enjoyable read.

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    1. I was disappointed not to have liked it better than I did. Still, as I said, it had its moments.

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  4. I haven't seen this one anywhere - intriguing but, sorry to read that you did not like it more.

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    1. I actually hope others will read and review the book. I would be interested to see what others think of it.

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  5. I've seen this book lately online, but had never heard of the author before. So I wasn't sure I wanted to add this book to my reading wishlist. It sounds like an interesting read.

    By the way, I am always impressed with how much reading you accomplish and such detailed, awesome reviews! You always seem to keep up with the latest books released out on to the market, which is fabulous.

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    1. I had never heard of the author either which is one reason I wanted to read her book.

      Thank you for the compliment. I do make an effort to stay abreast of the latest publications. Being retired definitely helps with that!

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