Fiesta in November, by Eduardo Malleaon July 11th, 2014
I’d read a couple of stories/novellas before (Chaves, The Lost Cause of Jacob Uber) by Eduardo Mallea, though I can’t exactly remember where I heard of him – certainly not in the English media anyway (Wikipedia has a typically laconic write-up). He was an Argentinian writer of the 30s-60s – Fiesta in November was written in 1938.
From what I’ve read, Mallea seems to specialise in hatred. Both Chaves and Lost Cause, as far as I remember, were about men who aroused an unreasoned aversion in their fellows. Fiesta in November, however, largely seems to concern characters who hate themselves, or segments of society possessed by an unbridgeable hatred.
It takes place at a high-society party being given by a woman called Mrs Rague, drifting from point of view to point of view in an occasionally stream-of-consciousness type way – now turning to her husband, now to her daughter Marta, now to a out-of-place guest, a painter called Lintas. One might easily perhaps recall Mrs Dalloway in this, yet having not read it for a long time, I couldn’t rightly say if this was merely a superficial resemblance or if it is entirely derived from that book. Mrs Rague, as it happens, is an Englishwoman who has married an Argentine, and she hates – along with all her class – poor people (which, as we know, is the very characteristic of Virginia Woolf). Her daughter, however, upon whom the narrative eventually settles, hates her own class – and yet is unable to reach out to a class beyond her, here represented by Lintas, who himself has a lot of issues about class to get off his chest, leading to a rather disappointing second half where characters speak far too theoretically, as if they have no interest in communicating, but are only intent on representing the author’s own ideas in a stilted manner. The business of class is remarkably heavy-handed: they are essentially portrayed as two different races, split from birth and incapable of intermingling (though I suppose this is what a class system really is, as opposed to our own which we are supposed to be obsessed about); the upper class have complete contempt for the lower, seeing them more or less as inhuman; but perhaps this is a reasonable representation of Argentina at this time. The first half I found much better.
I also read Ernesto Sabato’s disappointing The Tunnel; and Autumn Sonata by Ramón del Valle-Inclán, which was much on the same lines as Spring and Summer.