Hombres Desnudos offers astute and nuanced psychological exploration of diverse personalities challenged by present-day economic downturns. The reader is swept along in emotional currents and eddies that the characters discover, within themselves and through their cohorts, in re-inventing and redefining their lives after loss—loss of position, income, security, home, routine; of parents, partners, spouses, friends, connections, youth, prestige; of options, dignity, moral clarity, and control. The simple, provocative title insinuates complex layering of the literal baring of bodies and the figurative laying bare of mental and emotional states uncovered in the stripping away of lost selves and dreams.
A laid-off professor of literature, now without fiancé, home, or prospects, finds himself under the tutelage of a vulgar acquaintance, shaped by hard knocks, surviving in an underground world of male striptease, escort service, and prostitution. Their surprising friendship, mutually perplexing yet supportive, funny, and poignant, reveals depths of connection neither would have envisioned. In their commercial exploits they meet two women of means, also unlikely friends: one is a straight-laced, sheltered executive of the failing firm inherited from her father, her long-time marriage of convenience now abandoned by her husband and work associate, leaving her adrift in her personal life and her business endeavors, the other is much older, a free-spirited devotee of pleasurable pursuits. Developing interconnections in their lives culminate in unforeseeable and dramatic consequences. Through the characters’ conversations with one another, dissected by each of their internal narrations assessing their own and the others’ feelings and reactions, the reader’s sympathies shift as the story progresses. At its unsettling conclusion, even the reader feels complicit in the outcome.
Hombres Desnudos definitely merits translation into English for U.S. audiences. The backdrop of the story, largely the current financial crisis in Europe, with alcohol-drenched activity from morning into the wee hours, marked with vestiges of old-style machismo and misogyny, is clearly Spanish in detail and familiar to anyone who has lived there. Nonetheless, its sense of conflict between expected norms and the exotic forbidden, established conjugal patterns versus separation or abandonment, the sophisticated elite opposed to the hardscrabble underbelly, those who have options against those who do not, paucity versus excess, and the struggles of everyone faced with major change in life situations, whether financial or relational, male or female, weighted with the expectations placed upon them, could not be more universal. To paraphrase the book jacket, “it is a novel about the present that we’re living, and no one can conceive of the extent to which these turbulent economic times can change us into people we could never imagine ourselves capable of becoming. Its harmonious if disturbing blend of innocence, malice, friendship, sex, propriety, and the illicit” can be appreciated as much in the United States as in its European counterparts.
The author’s articulate, precise, accessible writing style is a finely-tuned light meter of psychological incandescence that illumines delicate shades of habit, thought, fear, desire, hope, and motivation we all may experience. At the same time, her dialogue and narration give unique voices to her specific, compelling characters. Without judgment, she posits relevant commentary on real and actual social issues, through the well-drawn personalities peopling her pages. She leaves the reader to ruminate in private or to discuss as need be, but her characters are not easily relinquished even once the book has ended.
According to her biographical summary, Alicia Giménez Bartlett’s first novel was Exit (Seix Barral) in 1984, and Una habitación ajena [A foreign room] in 1997 won the Premio Femenino Lumen. Petra Delicado, a popular police inspector created in the 1990s, has given rise to at least nine works in the saga, as well as a television series; all translated into several languages and particularly successful in Germany, Italy, where she received the Grinzane Cavour prize, and Switzerland, where she earned the Raymond Chandler award. Additionally, she has written essays such as [translated] The mystery of the sexes and Eve’s debt. In 2011, her Donde nadie te encuentre [Where no one can find you] received the Premio Nadal. Hombres Desnudos is gleaning similar acclaim, having won the Premio Planeta 2015. May her success continue.