28 April 2015

The burden of the heart, by Rosa Montero

Maybe El peso del corazón (roughly translated as The burden of the heart) won't look as the most proper title for a detective and futuristic work. Even so, from this last kind is what the most recent book by Rosa Montero partly pretends to be. The experienced author has taken up again her detective android, Bruna Husky, and put her in a story seasoned with social and environmental criticism. This way, with the action located again in that supposed Earth in a century from now, Montero deepens in the evils of that world to come and... The same defects which weighed down Husky's first adventure.

I wasn't counting on reading another book of this character, truth be told. But Seix Barral had the courtesy to offer me a physical copy (my gratitude to the publishing house, by the way) and I accepted it. I was wondering if the writer had overcome the black spots I'd felt in the previous novel —Lágrimas en la lluvia—, over which I'd already gave my opinion, and being able to read a recent spanish science fiction book was was an extra incentive. Regretfully, the experience has been quite far from what I expected —or desired— to find. But allow me put you in context first.

Hired to solve a case that seemed simple at first glance, detective Bruna Husky faces an international corruption plot which threatens to destabilize the fragile balance between a tumultuous Earth and the religious dictatorship of the Kingdom of Labari. In a future where war is supposedly eradicated, Bruna races against time for freedom and in defense of life, while she takes in the conflicting feelings produced by taking care of a small girl. Bruna Husky is an extreme and fascinating heroine; a survivor able of anything who struggles between fragility and toughness, selfsufficiency and the desperate need of affection. She's a beast trapped in the prison of her own short life, a tiger who comes and goes before the bars of his cage «so he doesn't lose the single and absolutely brief moment of salvation», like the feline of the beautiful sentence by Elias Canetti.

El peso del corazón is a thriller, a political and ecological adventure novel, a fantasy and science fiction story, a mythical tale, a fable for adults, a reflection about literary creation, a metaphor about the weight of life and the darkness of death... And a love story! Rosa Montero returns to the riveting world she created in Tears in rain and surprises us again with that narrative power that has turn Bruna Husky into a legendary lead.

I'll give you some extra details the synopsis doesn't indicate. In the —for now— bilogy made up by this book and its predecessor, Rosa Montero took from Blade Runner some ideas, like the androids with expiring dates or the extintion of multiple animal species. Nevertheless, in the text it's not used that decadent and noir aesthetic from that film. The humanity in which Bruna Husky lives in reminds ours, with inequalities also spreaded out according to economic criteria and their good ration of environmental problems. It's set apart by reaching contact with extraterrestrials, the practical development of teleportations and other technologies, and the existence of the orbital colonies over Earth. Overall, the author has developed a wide historical, social, political and technological background over which she base the android's stories.

Besides, most of the secondary characters which the writer poured into the first novel reappear although, on the whole, in shortened roles. Of course, new people emerge to complicate things to the replicant detective. All this, plus the grounds of a whole century of history and many other details that the author has created for this work and its predecessor should have been base enough for an interesting narration. But documentation alone is just a previous step in the development of a novel.

Look, very few times I've left a book halfway, but with El peso del corazón I've been very close. A hair's breadth, or less, and outraged on top of that. The reasons? I'll sum them up in a couple. First the author's eagerness to explain, rather than narrate —even from her characters's mouths—, events and descriptions. Second, and even more serious, the total nullification, constant and absurd, she reduces the leading role into. Worst, these two problems end becoming related.

Through the read I stepped more times than needed with merely explanatory paragraphs. In those chunks Montero gives data, names and more that, for the most part, are not relevant to the story. It's fine if she wants to show us as much as possible from that future Earth, but it's putting obstacles to the narration's flow. Those texts, sometimes of the encyclopedic kind, don't help the story to progress.

Even worse, the author makes some supporting characters to give those explanations just because. In fact I've notice that they behave like the so-called NPC (Non Playable Characters) that appear in those role playing videogames filling cities and buildings. They're beings with just one function, to give an information or a specific clue to the player. In El peso... they go as far as giving long —and baffling— speeches that, once more, slow down the narration. And for the ones who haven't read the previous novel, know that it's far worse in that one. It has placed encyclopedic chapters among the ones for the own story. Nevertheless, in this second book they have had the consideration of leaving those texts attached at the end as an appendix. All... But one that shows up around the last quarter of this book, like a tiger assaulting the reader —myself— who was thinking he was already free of them. When I saw it I couldn't help smiling, really.

You end bearing the explanations, truth be told, if you skim them. What cannot be tolerated is that an author waste so much —and for the second time in a row— a main character. Bruna Husky is a combat android, stronger, with better senses than a normal human, hardened in war and in death. With all that she has the potential of being a powerful and decisive thriller role, the kind who says the last word to solve a case. But not in the hands of Rosa Montero, who very effectively misses completely the virtues of her detective.

Nothing relevant achieves Husky on her own, all clues reach her without having to make an effort in, for instance, spill them out of someone dirting her hands or after a chase through the futuristic Madrid in which she lives. No, everything important is given by the supporting cast, they solve everything for her. She lives trapped in a permanent ineptitude halo that restrains her to do much more than drink white wine and being just a bystander of how the story unfolds.

I'll illustrate you this problem with a simple example. Imagine, the hero in the peak scene of the movie. At last he's facing the corrupt agent who had been his shadow for too long. But, in Montero's version, there wouldn't be epic fight. The assassin leaves the hero incapacitated, and he takes out of camera the supporting character who accompanied him. The minutes pass by and the hero remains lying on the floor, trapped by some beams that have fallen over him. Beware, this is what's the camera is focusing. We know nothing of the secondary character nor the agent. At the end, after quite a long while the secondary appears, dying, and he tells him how he has killed the corrupt agent. He explains it. Just brilliant.

Another example, this one taken from the book —I warn beforehand—, is when Husky has to infiltrate into a space colony. She had already done it in the past, and she didn't fare very well, but she has to do it again. The problem is that the writer has built the colony as a extremely sexist kingdom that doesn't admit androids and in which women barely matter, so little that men dont talk to them directly. And that's a problem for a female detective, as you'd suppose, and a potential dead end for a writer.

To solve this, the author plays safe: one of the secondaries is suddenly more than it seemed and then they can go and return from Labari with amazing ease. Surprising given how bad the infiltration was looking. It would have been considerably more interesting that Bruna had solved the problem on her own, pretending to be a man. Ah, that's not all. Before going to said colony, her lover —another secondary— sticks a permanent tracking device for love, althoug lying about how the device works. Translated, he doesn't see her able to do anything alone and foretells that he'll have to rescue her in any moment. Obviously, he already has the experience of the previous novel...

There are more details that I could address, but after all this lecture my position is clear: I cannot recommend this book. If the author had concentrated more in solving better the plot and the way to narrate it, or, even more important, she had squeezed the potential of the protagonist, maybe the thing would have turned out better. The future that Rosa Montero has conceived can be full of details and many layers, but we don't read novels to be explained about other worlds. We read to live them through the skin of others.

Títle: El peso del corazón
Author: Rosa Montero
Publishing brand: Seix-Barral (Planeta group)
First edition: Febrero de 2015
Reviewed edition: Biblioteca furtiva
Format: Paperback with sleeves and band
Pages: 397
ISBN: 978-84-322-2419-5


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