Milan/zzz's Reviews > Beauty Salon

Beauty Salon by Mario Bellatin
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's review
Jun 14, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: lgbt, nongenre, latin-america
Read from June 14 to July 01, 2010

This is very disturbing novel. It is slim and I thought I could rad it fast during one trip. However, that wasn't the case. It's bleak and uncompromising in its harshness. From time to time it reminds of "Blindness" by Jose Saramago.

The main character is transvestite who transformed his Beauty Salon into "Terminal", place where people come to die. He describes his life prior epidemic and how they (he and his two friends) were going to cruise the streets of unnamed cities (descriptions are not too erotic if at all); how he decided to invest his savings into equipment and aquariums for his Beauty Salon and then when disease start to spread how he saw himself as someone who should help.

Now there's something utterly rotten in the main character. In spite the fact that he provides sort of dignity of dying people he doesn't give them any consolation. I remember one part (can't find it to post a quote) where he's taking any hope from patient that suddenly feel better: he immediately stepped in to reassure the poor guy that he'll be better. Instead he's convincing him that's actually part of the illness and that soon his condition will deteriorate and that he'll inevitably die, quite soon in quite pain.
And he talks with utter honesty about this as if he's commenting a weather outside. he is incredibly detached with what he's talking about.
The same goes with the fish in his aquarium (now, this might seems (compared with the previous story) grotesque but i think it reflects his character perfectly): you really think at least he feels affection toward the fish in his aquarium (which remained the only link with his previous life) but then when he sometimes becomes bored with one breed he just let them die and replaced with more colourful (or whatever) fish. But in general he is very careful about his fish and that's what is strange: he shows us that he is more than capable to be full of care when he wants but chooses not to practice this empathy towards his fellow humans.

But indeed, he is very clear in his role: he's not aiming to give a comfort of those dying people; he ONLY provides place to die. He's not empathizing with his "tenants" which could be expected because he's linked with them by homosexuality.

Relation between fish and humans is really interesting: he elaborates much more about his fish which is understandable because he distinguishes them by their colour, price, difficulty to breed, etc while human being united in the the illness they will soon kill them are all the same.

So the most confusing part of this novel is indeed the main character. Sometimes you feel empathy for all what he's doing but the very next moment you find yourself disapproving his actions.

Although the name of the disease is never mentioned it seems it's AIDS. So this novel is also a revolt against how society is taking care of HIV positive people; sexual minorities, i.e. homosexuals (all tenants of"Terminal" are men (he refuses to accept women to die)); many of dying people has been banned from the their homes, rejected by their families and left to die on the street.
But on the larger scale it is a story about all kind of sickness and how it affects humanity.

In the end I'd say it's very interesting novel; very moving; with lovely writing style; very thought provoking; novel that will stay with you for a long time.

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