Last night, as I wandered between bars and cafes in Taksim, North of the Golden Horn, I read most of Isabel Allende’s Eva Luna. I was enraptured, I was in love. We giggled together as I drank a beer, I cried in pleasure as I was served a SHAKEN boulevardier*, and I kept the rolled up paperback in my hand as I got incredibly lost on the walk back to my hotel.
At one point I tried to go into a trendy-looking, popular bar, but was refused entry by a bouncer who said, and I quote “Only for with ladies.” I understood what he meant. Shaven-headed Englander yob, here to smash chairs and down more raki than anyone ever should. That’s how I appear to strangers now.** I could have argued, in hindsight, that I was with a lady. I was with Isabel Allende, a charming, witty, sexy, entertaining and sharp lady. For her novel, Eva Luna, is one of the best things I’ve read in ages and something that has given me a lot of joy over the past 24 hours. Far more joy than the raki I tried (awful, like shit absinthe) and the mouthful of sheep brain I ate in order to confirm, yet again, the importance of my meat-avoiding diet.***
Allende, I truly believe, is a wronged writer, far superior to lauded male peers like Gabriel García Marquez, but somehow dismissed. Eva Luna, which encompasses a child witnessing the dead and unburied of the Holocaust, which includes a very positive and modern view of a man who lives as a woman, which includes passages about politics, about war, about culture, grief, loss and ageing, Eva Luna is a fine, mature and rounded novel. Repeatedly it made me laugh, several times I was filled with tears (though I didn’t shed any. I don’t believe society allows men to have a shaven head and emotions), and many times it lifted me to richly evoked and beautifully constructed foreign worlds. Jungles, prisons, factories, mountains, a town built like a Bavarian village in the middle of the Andes. Allende creates gorgeous, strong images and, here, they are translated beautifully. The text sparkles with life, with enjoyment of existence, intellect, the body. There is a lot of emotion and there is a lot of sex, which brings me onto the one element of the book I couldn’t quite grasp.
Eva Luna is FULL of sex. These hot-blooded South American types, yadda yadda et cetera, of course, but people in the novel are at it all the time. And there are never consequences. In literature (and life, tbh) I am used to sex and sexuality – the whole gamut from lust through to furious penetrative thrusting – being something BAD. Sex and desire are things that corrupt and destroy, bringing shame, regret, guilt and a sense of degradation for AT LEAST ONE of the involved parties, usually more. In Eva Luna, sex is something joyful, something one can engage in with no regret. There are characters who prepare aphrodisiac soup for the whole family to eat then enjoy the effects of with their respective partners. Casual conversations quickly turn to talk of past lovers, desire is a feeling to be enjoyed, rather than something to be repressed, hidden and denied. In all of the sexual encounters here, at least one person ALWAYS has a great time. No one is ashamed of the sex they’ve had – they may be ashamed of the PERSON they’ve had sex with, but the act itself was something they enjoyed tremendously.
Is this normal? Is this what all sex is like outside of that written by gloomy Northern Europeans? Are there people in the world genuinely having mutually agreeable sexual experiences, or is this just part of the gentle magical realism that lingers in Allende’s work? In one scene two lovers levitate mid-congress – that I KNOW doesn’t happen in reality, so is all the satisfaction fictionalised too?
I don’t know. Well, I suppose I do.
I’m writing this in Asia, by the way, a continent I have never visited before. I took a boat over the Bosphorus and was reading Allende as I sailed across the continental shelf. Momentous, perhaps.
But, to return to this digression from my life, Eva Luna is a stonking great novel. It is funny, it is sexy, it is intelligent and it is moving. It is wise and engaging and excellently put together. It is a triumph, and a novel that deserves far more attention than shitty, shitty, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Which is shit, did I mention that?
Right, back to Europe…
* I know, right??? I had to hold in every last muscle in my body to not laugh in the cocktelero’s face. AND it wasn’t even fine strained, had loads of massive shards of ice in that made me embarrassed. Still, it cost about £6 so I’d have to be even more of a dick than I am to criticise it publicly and in detail. Oh, wait…
** To temper the risk of looking like a thug, I have today been wandering around Istanbul wearing a T-shirt advertising the music of S Club 7.
*** Honestly, I don’t understand why people do it. As in eat meat. Animals are dirty, they are filthy things covered in hair and their own shit. They are full of blood and they literally eat excrement and other horrible things that would kill a human. To be prepared for eating they must be sliced to bits – beginning whilst alive – which, obviously, is an incredibly messy process. This brain, then, that I ate yesterday, came from someone SMASHING APART the skull of a sheep that had been killed (I’m in Turkey, so the sheep was killed halal which is a little bit bloodier than industrialised (though I’m sure there is industrialised halal slaughtering) butchery) and skinned. The skull is a single piece of bone, fused together over a lifetime, so the butcher or assassin or whatever the term is would have had to use a knife or a chisel to pry open, hack off, the bone of the sheep’s skull. They would have pulled out the brain, slit the tissue connected to the rest of the body, placed it on a chopping board, cut it into slices and then shallow fried it and served it to me. (At some point in that process there was probably a courier, I doubt the restaurant I ate in had an on-site slaughterhouse.) The brain fell apart in my mouth, in texture it was almost like fucking candy floss, in colour it was like ANAEMIC candy floss. It tasted slightly fishy, was quite fatty and eating it gave me no pleasure at all. It gave me a sense of personal value, I suppose, by doing something I believe to be morally wrong but not feeling guilty about it. That was the only good thing. It looked awful, tasted awful and smelt awful. I will not repeat.