Manuel Mujica Láinez Richard A. ValdéS - Essay

Richard A. ValdéS

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

RICHARD A. VALDÉS

Manuel Mujica Lainez is a very prolific Argentine author, perhaps best known for his novel Bomarzo…. Sergio is his fourteenth work published by Editorial Sudamericana. It is the story of a young man's introduction to love and the sexual life. Sergio, the protagonist, has the curse/blessing of being beautiful. His unusual attractiveness makes him prey for several men and women who try to force their affection on him…. The subtlety with which [the author] treats erotic subjects and motifs blends well with the humorous and sometimes satiric tone of the novel.

Throughout the novel the author speaks directly to the reader. In so doing he creates the atmosphere of a tale being told to the reader, creates a literary distance between the audience and the characters which adds verisimilitude to coincidences and situations that might not otherwise be acceptable to the reader, and subtly presents the main theme. The reader becomes increasingly aware of how a society which ostensibly esteems beauty persecutes someone cursed with it. The subtlety of this theme is such that it may escape some readers.

The story is well written, often humorous and has a picaresque plot somewhat reminiscent of Tom Jones's trip to London in Henry Fielding's novel. Sergio, like Tom, does not always escape the assaults upon his virtue from those enamored of him. The tragic ending to the story is necessary, given the plot and the theme. The foreshadowing in the seance and Sergio's imaginary trip through Las Meniñas while in a self-induced trance weaken the novel, however. Up to this penultimate chapter the events of the novel have been acceptable within the inner dialectic which the author has established. There are many coincidences, but they do not break the logic established in the work. The presages of Sergio's death debilitate an ending which would have been ironically integrated into the story and would have given a logical and inevitable resolution to the situation.

While the novel is not a literary masterpiece, it is skillfully written, enjoyable, and it presents an interesting view of a society that exploits and destroys beauty. (pp. 593-94)

Richard A. Valdés, in a review of "Sergio," in World Literature Today, Vol. 51, No. 4, Autumn, 1977, pp. 593-94.