Book Review

Andrea Víctrix by Llorenç Villalonga

a "lost masterpiece" that deserved to be forgotten

19th July, London heatwave

cw: suicide ideation, ageism, discussion of prejudice against non-traditional gender identities.

Look, i love a dystopia more than the next person. I’ve read numerous books set in dystopias and I’ve read books about dystopias. I’ve been to exhibitions about dystopias and I’ve watched films about dystopias and – most importantly of all – I’m living through the drawn out societal collapse that we’re stuck within here in late capitalism’s death throes and will – unless I’m lucky enough to die within the next 15-20 years (fingers crossed, good god i would love to be dead and the sooner the better!) – end up dying in the fast-approaching dystopia of extreme authoritarianism in response to mass climate migration.

Dystopias are so popular in popular culture that global institutions, businesses and governments have decided to wave one in with wide open arms!

Christ, the world’s a mess but, hey, at least it will be over soon!

Life’s too short? Life’s too long, bebbe!

///

I like a dystopia more than the average reader, but this one – Llorenç Villalonga’s 1974 novel Andrea Víctrix – wasn’t really my kinda thing.

Originally published in 1974, three years before Villalonga’s 80th birthday (he lived 1897 – 1980), the book was recently translated from the original Catalan by P. Louise Johnson and published by Fum d’Estampa Press in 2021.

Fum d’Estampa is a new indie press based between London & Barcelona that publishes new translations of predominantly (but not – I think – exclusively) Catalonian texts from the last 100 or so years. The books – I’ve seen a couple of others in bookstores though this is, so far, the only one I’ve read – are beautifully presented, high quality paper, simple cover designs with nice card stock and so-called “french flaps”; they’re beautiful objects, and that always counts for something, right?

If something must be physical, it should always be beautiful, right?

It’s one of the reasons why I yearn for death: ageing out of effortless beauty is one of the stupidest things anyone alive can do. There’s no benefit to it! We should all be dead!

Anyway…

This is a dystopia that feels… ah… reactionary.

Almost all of the dystopian fiction I have found myself reading over the past few years has been dystopian writing coming either explicitly from marginalised communities and/or from progressive viewpoints.

Dystopias used to offer a sliver of hope or a very pointed critique; dystopias that point at real, serious, issues, treating them with heft, weight, emotional nuance and with pathos. Also, usually, with an engaging and riveting plot (examples: Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, A Country of Ghosts by Margaret Killjoy, possibly The Four-Gated City by Doris Lessing, uncertain of that yet as I haven’t read it lol.) 

In Andrea Víctrix, though, there is none of that, instead we have what I can only describe as an escapist fantasy from a very aged writer.

///

Andrea Víctrix is set in 2050, and is narrated in the first person singular by a writer from the mid-20th century who has just been re-awoken from a special cryogenic process that de-ages the body while leaving memory and personality as it was before. So, not only do we have a 1960s ageing conservative suddenly implanted into a future he doesn’t understand, we also have him now inhabiting the body of a 30ish year old young man. I hope I never get so old as to think 30ish is young! It’s too old, waaaaay too old. (There isn’t really much pointing in living beyond 25 tbh, but whatever…)

Into this 2050 of Villalonga’s imagination, in Palma de Mallorca, the narrator is quickly filled in on what he has missed from the previous 80 years or so.

Russia & the United States did the old mutually assured destruction and nuclear-bombed each other to smithereens, the United States of Europe rose as a major power and then nuclear-bombed to oblivion its potential rival, China, and so exists as a sole global superpower that coasts on exploitative & extractive economic colonialism of the few parts of the world that remain habitable.

In this version of a post-nuclear Earth, there is no nuclear winter or risk of fallout spreading from beyond the places where the bombs were dropped (this is not Nevil Shute’s On the Beach). What there is, though, is mass death by automobile – cars are everywhere – mass consumerism (some people even own more than two radios!) – and a “restrictive” government that provides a universal basic income for those who are unable or unwilling to work, but that gives them enough money for a pleasant life. The other (and only significant) change is that everyone – other than the handful of people, like the narrator, who have woken from a rejuvenating cryosleep – is that by 2050 all binary, traditional notions of gender have been stripped away and there is no connection between sex and identity. This, more than the enforced starvation and global environmental destruction is what pisses off the narrator. He wanders around the beautiful Mediterranean island he is living on demanding that people show them his genitals and tell him if they are “men” or “women”.

Why?

Why does it matter?

Why should it matter?

There was absolutely no reason for this “gender critical” text to be re-published so long after its author’s death and in a new translation – given the increasing vitriol of scum bigots parroting this kind of “genital examination”, “toilet access” bullshit, it feels like something that could only have been published if Fum d’Estampa endorses the tone of this argument.

Maybe anti-trans rhetoric in Barcelona isn’t at the fever-pitch it is in the UK (and definitely already was in 2021 when this was published), but this publisher isn’t solely based in Catalunya, they’re also based here, so someone at some point should have taken a moment and – at the very least – included a content warning at the front of this book acknowledging the antiquated conservative ideologies that the text espouses as if universal and eternal truths (& it is the text, not just the narrator).

As someone who is quietly non-binary, the reason why I’m so fucking quiet about it is because I don’t want to put myself in a position where someone I don’t know invalidates my sense of self, which is what happened on almost every single page of this novel.

For this to be published as if it’s a toothless – or inoffensive – dystopian fiction is deeply inappropriate and functionally unforgivable.

I suppose that my own quietness around gender expression is the kind of widespread thing that forces the conversation to remain in the bleak situation it is, but I’ve received pretty aggressive and unpleasant messages online following the publication of pretty innocuous (in my opinion) stuff, and although I’m not happy to have a dick and no hair on my scalp, I’m also not desperate for breasts and a cunt, so I can live with the micro-aggressions my choice of clothing results in and I do not want to do anything that may provoke macro ones.

I mean, I dunno, what am I fucking talking about?

I think, really, this is why I’m not looking to rebuild social and professional networks in London: I don’t want to have to perform that [more] masculinised version of myself that is expected by people I knew before. I dunno.

Anyway, I didn’t love this book!

Dull, repetitive, old school, pointless. Will happily check out another Fum d’Estampa title unless they contact me about my comments above and are unkind!

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