Having read and loved The Beautiful Indifference: Stories, a collection of short stories by this author, I was willing to take a chance on this one despite my hesitation. The subject matter definitely had potential but I read so very little of what is considered 'literary fiction' these days and clearly for good reason.
The concept is interesting: Rachel Caine, a zoologist that grew up in the UK now lives in rural Idaho monitoring wolves. She has been asked to come back to the UK in hopes of hiring her for a project a local Earl has set his sights on: the reintegration wolves to the English countryside. Interested in how long exactly it had been since wolves were common in England, I did a little research myself. Apparently around 1281, the complete destruction of wolves in England was ordered by the current ruler, Edward I and while there were a few mentions of wolves in subsequent years, most appeared to have been exterminated. So despite the modern disadvantages, this Earl wants to bring that park of medieval England back to life and he believes Rachel would be the best bet for this project to be a success. Interesting, but not fascinating enough to capture my complete interest.
Rachel herself was a strange character, seemingly as wild as the wolves she watches, but I struggled with the balance between the topic of the wolves with the overpowering focus on her uninspiring personal life. Then there was the stereotypical Earl, Pennington, and his determination towards this project that was ultimately left unexplained. Emphasis was constantly placed on the fact that he had money and power and he always got what he want without any real meaning behind his actions. The side characters weren't much better and I would have preferred more of a focus on the wolves themselves, alas despite the assumption that they were they definitely took the back burner of the story even with the clear attempt to parallel their story with Rachel's. It just didn't work for me.
The prose is lovely, as I knew she was capable of from her short story collection, but being confronted with another literary story where the quotation marks are experiencing a severe shortage is tiresome. Having to constantly reread passages because I can't determine whether it was something that was actually said out loud or was merely internal dialogue isn't something a reader should have to struggle with. It's a literary style that I will never be on board with....more
Memories of My Melancholy Whores opens with a most surprising statement frMy rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
‘Age isn’t how old you are but how old you feel.’
Memories of My Melancholy Whores opens with a most surprising statement from our unnamed narrator: “The year I turned 90, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.” While this might not inspire any sort of positive feelings towards this man, the truth is he has lived long enough to not really care because his lasciviousness is simply who this man is and has always been. Introduced to love-making at an early age in a local brothel, he boastfully states that he has never gone to bed with a woman that he didn’t pay to do so. After a statement like that it comes as no surprise that he was also the twice crowned client of the year. He stopped keeping track of his sexual escapades at age 50 when he had reached 514 tallies.
Memories of My Melancholy Whores may not feature your typical grandfatherly figure but our narrator still manages to charm us in his liveliness even at such an advanced age. While sleeping with virgins won’t likely be on my bucket list when I reach 90, being in a healthy position to do so regardless is definitely something to aim for. Our unnamed narrators story stirs up comparisons to another older fellow who was fond of a young girl, one Humbert Humbert.
‘Seeing and touching her in the flesh, she seemed less real to me than in my memory.’
The way this story was written is also similar to Lolita in that it almost feels like an attempt to explain and defend his feelings for what happened between him and the 14 year old girl he names Delgadina. Instead, his actions would indicate that he has no reason to not be truthful and that his decision to call upon Rosa Cabarcas and ask for the girl was the first step towards doing what he should have done all along: look for love. Not unexpectedly, this is not your typical love story. Our unnamed narrator is smitten with the young girl, yet even he can see the ridiculousness of the situation he has found himself in, especially when his meets with the girl are always while she’s asleep. He reads her stories and strokes her body and while away from her he fantasizes of a life spent together with her.
‘...that was the beginning of a new life at an age when most mortals have already died.’
Memories of My Melancholy Whores is more than just an unlikely story of love. It is also about when reaching the point in your life and being able to look back on how you’ve spent yours causes you to change and transform into the person you had always intended to be. For one that spent his life never truly knowing love, it finally came to him when least expected....more