In a graceful style, rich with vivid, precise images, neither pretentious nor overly decorated, Eduardo Mallea tells the moving story of two people struggling to communicate with each other while lost in the midst of a shallow, violent world. Although the painter Lintas and Marta Rague are the two most sympathetic characters in this short novel, both are held back by their pride from the honesty and openness that would liberate them and enable them to achieve an authentic relationship. They are the only individuals in Fiesta in November who even care about moral concerns, except for the poet, unnamed and doomed, whose brief story alternates like an almost subliminal theme with the main body of the story, illuminating and commenting upon it.
The two fiestas, one social, the other of blood, are linked thematically by Lintas’s account to Marta of the fatal beating of a Jewish bookseller in Buenos Aires by a group of Argentine fascists. An undercurrent of violence also lies behind the conversation and actions of the guests in the house of Marta’s mother, Eugenia Rague. The fragments of the condemned poet’s story are in italics, a sign of emphasis, suggesting that in spite of its shorter length, this narrative is the more important of the two.
The opening arrest of the poet could be that of Joseph K. in Der Prozess (1925; The Trial, 1937). There are more than casual similarities between the work of Kafka and this novel. The contrast between the scene with the poet and the luxurious setting of Eugenia’s home is shocking. Eugenia is a vain, acquisitive character. Her only passions are for her collection of objects from the past and for power. “Power is power,” she thinks, “and damn all the rest.” She detests sentiment and everything connected with it, so it is not surprising that she is completely alienated from her two daughters. Her husband George, despite his wealth, feels no fulfillment or peace.
A sultry, perfumed lushness pervades the novel, the heat of summer and passion—and of violence. Objects seem to have lives of their own. The opening picture of the dinner party is a devastating glimpse of empty lives and futile social ritual. The characters are struggling with an inner tyranny, a psychic trap more terrible than the cruelty of society, if they only realized it. “All art,” thinks...
(The entire section is 970 words.)