Fiction Reviews

Andrea Víctrix

(1974 / 2021) Llorenç Villalonga, Fum d'Estampa Press, £13.99, pbk, 297pp, ISBN 978-1-916-29394-6


Originally published in 1974, in Catalan, and now translated by P. Louise Johnson, this is presented as ‘part socio-political essay, part dystopian fiction’. The anonymous narrator was subjected to a ‘cryo-cure’ in 1965 and revived to face the consumerist nightmare of Mallorca in 2050. Within a few hours of wandering the streets of what was Palma, now re-named Tourist Club of the Mediterranean, or ‘Turclub’ for short, he meets the gender-neutral character of the title. Gorgeous and beguiling they pick the narrator up in their Rolls and take him on a tour of the streets where he observes how well-mannered the people are, how beautifully dressed they are in an elegant Roman style, how opulent the city seemed … Until the idyll is shattered when Andrea, driving at over a hundred miles per hour, runs over two pedestrians and instead of being arrested, is not only congratulated by the police but rewarded with a cheque for ten thousand francs, as pedestrians who behave with ‘reckless impudence’ by crossing where it is forbidden are the ones who are the criminals. This sets the satirical tone for the work as a whole, in which everyone has false teeth to keep dentists in employment and mass advertising encourages people to buy more ‘atomic radios’ and refrigerators, even though there’s nothing worth listening to on the former and little food to be put in the latter. Brightly coloured plastic flowers and trees have replaced the natural variety, food is typically consumed in the form of synthetic liquids and ‘Hola-Hola’ (‘cordiality in a can’) is the ubiquitous drink of the day, despite being nothing but dyed water (see what the author did there with the name?!).

Andrea themself is Director of Pleasure for the Mediterranean Region but in an era when love is ‘so free it had almost evaporated’ (p. 26), pleasure is to be found in collective orgies or the fantastic spectacles of entertainment halls, typically featuring young children performing incredibly dangerous and often deadly acrobatics. In a nod to Brave New World, soma is taken to maintain energy levels despite its deleterious side effects. ‘Real’ food on the other hand is tasteless and poorly prepared with restaurants more interested in providing a show for the diners, which is why waiters are now regarded as members of one of the most elite segments of society.

There is a cloying sense of decadence that grows as the story progresses, with the absurdism highlighting the more disturbing elements. And although there isn’t much of a plot as such, as the narrator skips from one encounter to another, from the psychiatrist’s office to the apartment of a woman, born like him, ‘vivaparously’, rather than artificially, events unfold, structures, physical and societal, begin to crumble, and an ending comes in sight, even if it’s not actually reached.

As described, there is the makings of a solid dystopian novel here, with some nice satirical flourishes and prescient warnings of the dangers of pursuing progress at all costs. What undermines that effort is the ‘socio-political’ aspect rammed into the narrative through assorted speeches, declamations and, bluntly, rants. With scattered references to various figures, from Karl Marx to Waldo Frank (a political activist and literary critic) these are little more than crude and stodgy diatribes that jam up the narrative flow and reveal the underlying conservatism of the author. What is being yearned for is a time when women were women and ‘manly men’ wore the jeans, when the farm labourers who worked the fields were poor but happy and technological progress was tied to craftsmanship. Science is the real enemy here, described by the narrator as a ‘fitful, fluctuating god that promises everything and never says anything definitive’ (p.286). It was Galileo and his telescope who ‘unleashed’ the evil which was then ‘given impetus’ by the quantum physicist de Broglie and his ‘ultra-microscope’ (I’m not sure what Villalonga is referring to here but these condemnations might carry more force if he knew a little more about the history of science!). Einstein at least had the decency to be appalled by the consequences of his discoveries which have led to the destruction of the USA and Russia but as a ‘god’ and counterpart to Andrea, his legacy is enshrined in the ‘Einstein Arch’ that stands at the end of ‘Pleasure Avenue’, as well as in the voices of the school-children who are compelled to chant his famous formula E=mc² every morning. But the real villain of the piece turns out to be Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest and scientist who saw all progress as inevitably taking us to the supreme consciousness of the ‘Omega Point’, whose views pepper the narrative and which are described by Villalonga in a short epilogue as ‘socialist mysticism’.

The overall effect of these disquisitions is sadly akin to that of listening to the local pub bore drone on about how things were better in their day. I appreciate the attempt to revive another lost ‘classic’ but frankly, when it comes to taking a satirical swipe at consumer culture, Pohl and Kornbluth’s Space Merchants does it all so much better.

Steven French


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