9 ago. 2017

Muriel Villanueva's Motril 86: A Review

Muriel Villanueva, Motril 86 (Barcelona: Proa, 2013). 286 pages.
In what is yet another dilatory strategy from a desperate(ly) conservative government, this week the Turnbull-“led” government (the quotation marks stand for sarcasm) decided to prevent a conscience vote in Parliament and waste many millions of taxpayer money (which should be directed towards people who are in dire need of assistance) on a postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage, the constitutionality of which will need to be determined by the High Court. As ever, Australia is dragged back into the 20th century. It’s sickening.

Our friends S. and M. have been in a solidly steady relationship for over 20 years. They are, for all intents and purposes, a married couple – they are the proud mothers of a gorgeous teenager, A. Yet intransigent, narrow-minded bigots of the religious persuasion do not want to allow them to legalise their marriage on an equal footing as heterosexual partners. There are many thousands of Australian couples who share in their injustice.

Our kids used to think A. was incredibly lucky to have two mums. These days, the boys irately remonstrate against the backward, fundamentalist stance of the parties in government. If only Australian teenagers were granted the right to vote! How quickly the country might change for good!

My reader may be wondering what all of the above may have to do with the book under review. The answer is easy: everything. Motril 86 is a novel about a 10-year-old girl with two mums. It is 1986, and Spain has managed to survive yet another Fascist coup. After 40 years of social and political repression, there was among the young a hunger for many, various freedoms. Among them, sexual freedom.

Mar, the young girl and alter ego for Valencia-born Villanueva, travels to a small coastal village near Motril (Almeria) with Paula, her biological mother’s partner. She is to spend a week there. And what a week it will end up being: Mar will get to know the most intimate secrets of Paula’s friends and flatmates, she will have vital experiences unknown to her until then, and will learn more about herself than in the ten years she has lived so far.

A view of Torrenueva beach. Photograph by Jorgechp
The plot deals with how Mar engages with Paula and tries to make sense of her ‘second’ mother during the trip and the short stay in the Andalusian village. The dialogues are crisp and perspicacious; the characters are powerfully drawn; the trip narrative is replete with amusing anecdotes Spanish readers of my generation will recognise and identify with instantly. For instance, Flores, the macho hitchhiker who in the end manages to make even Paula laugh, is a plausible character who adds spice to the plot.

There are two narrative voices here, though. First and foremost, there is 10-year-old Mar, through whose fresh, naïve worldview we read the story. But there is also 35-year-old Mar/Muriel Villanueva the writer, who reflects on the difficulties of the writing process and discusses the trustworthiness of her memories with her two mothers twenty-five years later. Of course, such memories are unreliable – that is why we write fiction, don’t we? To make unreliable memories more dependable? Motril 86 delves therefore into the autofiction genre, and it does so quite successfully.

There are occasionally some weaker parts. Personally, I disliked the inclusion of the Facebook comments and queries, which hardly add anything to the story. There are also far too many musical references, as if Villanueva had been planting the seeds of a soundtrack for a movie to be made down the track. On the other hand, it is undeniable that music was a very significant part of our lives back then.

Els Pets was one of the bands Mar would listen to on her radio-cassette. Bon dia! (Good morning!)

Villanueva shows skill in creating Mar’s narrative voice: a wryly ironic young girl whose view of the world would have been very different from other children of her age. The smooth mix of Spanish and the two regional varieties of Catalan in the dialogues is also quite an achievement.

And now, can we please bring Australia into the 21st century for good? Pretty please!?

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