I’ve done it. I have finally read an entire book cover to fucking cover in Spanish. However, rather than one of the slim books of poetry or literary fiction I’ve bought from second hand bookshops while here in Barcelona, this first full foreign language book I have got myself through is a graphic novel by Xiomara Correa and it’s called Mi novio Caballo, which I translate as My Boyfriend, The Horse because the more literal My Horse Boyfriend doesn’t quite shine, does it?
With a cover featuring a pleasant bit of fabric over the top of the horse’s mane and tail, this is a sensuous book for the reader before it has even been opened. In my six weeks in Spain I have been perusing comic book displays whenever I see them, hoping for an unchallenging, but engaging, book to use as a way in to reading whole books in Spanish. Like I thought it would be easier, a gateway book, to things more literary, more wordy. Unfortunately, I was wrong, because although Mi novio Caballo hits multiple of my literary interests – animals, casual drug use, sexuality, despair, unhappiness, travel, adventure – it hits them with a raucous, youthful energy that basically means it is almost cover-to-cover slang: and I – until I read this – had never really had anything to do with slang in Spanish.
Slang is strange, innit? I’m talking sexual slang, drug slang, the kind of slang that people use in nightclubs, at festivals, on dates, in bed and in moments of close intimacy with a lover. While reading this comic book – about romance, contemporary (well, millennial) romance – I soon found myself learning new words for fucking, for cocaine, for menstrual blood, for penis, but also for things like leaving a building (the equivalent of “let’s split”). Rather than giving me an easy sense of the progress I have made with my Spanish, Mi novio Caballo actually made me feel worse than I am, because I was suddenly studying a type, a style, of language that I had never encountered. That said, with online dictionaries – Google Translate is a squeaky clean fucking prude – to hand, I was able to pick my way through this short, and compelling, text over a couple of afternoons, in the gaps between my hasty hasty heady heady attempts to find gainful employment here in Barcelona and also submit loads of writing I shelved a few years ago due to it being “too personal”. Lol, hilarious: nothing is too personal now.
Mi novio Caballo is extremely personal (to the characters), extremely intimate. It is about the relationship between a woman and a horse, in a world where, yes, all animals can talk (and dinosaurs and UFOs exist), interspecies relationships do occur, but they are kinda frowned upon by older generations. The protagonist, a young woman, has a bit of a thing for animals: she has dated a pig before the horse, and while they are on a break she hooks up with a goat and almost with a diplodocus (he’s impotent); the horse, meanwhile, shacks up with a fox for a bit, until she abandons him to the risk of being eaten by some lions she is friends with when they go on a trip to Africa.
It’s absurd, it’s bizarre, it’s full of drug use and casual sex and hook ups and festivals and parties and cheating and kinda cheating and there’s occasional violence, there are scenes that begin as kinda trippy scenes following drug use that morph into part of the true narrative, it’s about the pressures and the problems of love, about letting people down and about building people up, about the risks of intimacy and the joys of love and sex. Even with half of the characters being animals, it offers a very human, emotional, exploration of the idea of youngish love. Relationships are strained by differing – and oscillating – levels of “maturity”, by jealousy (sometimes founded, sometimes unfounded). Correa’s brightly-coloured images and her soft shapes feel fresh, feel vivid, and they feel alive. This is a contemporary graphic novel that explores contemporary social and sexual mores – what do we do when we don’t want to get wasted as often as our partner does? What do we do if we think our partner wants a threesome? What do we do if a heartbroken pterodactyl pretends to do us a favour but actually abandons us in his nest to look after his young kids so he can go off and find his wife who’s shacked up in the sea with a hot dolphin? Y’know, those eternal questions.
It stretched my ability at Spanish and expanded my vocabulary. It was funny and exciting and also moving – this is what love often is, y’know, messy, but fun, but important.
I watched the final episode of The Leftovers a few days ago, and it’s really stuck with me, huge amounts of the images and dialogue of that glorious, seminal, hour of television. At one point someone discusses the difference between sinning and fucking up: “a fuck up is a mistake, a sin is when you know something is wrong but you do it anyway”. That was spoken, in The Leftovers, in a wedding speech, and was about how one can still find happiness if you fuck up a few times, but happiness is elusive when you repeatedly sin. That was the message of Mi novio Caballo, too: bad things happen, life and work and travel and friendships and flirtations can get in the way of love, but if a love is heady, weighty and significant, it can push the fuck through. A beautiful, modern, story of love. Like the love poems of Hera Lindsay Bird, this is a literary evocation of love for now. Very enjoyable. I’m sure it’ll get translated, it’s a lotta fun.
Probably owes a lot to BoJack Horseman, but let’s not mention that.
Buy Mi novio Caballo direct from the publisher via this link.
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