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WONDERFUL WORLD
by Javier Calvo and Maria Faye Lethem, trans.
Harper, March 2009
470 pages
$27.99
ISBN: 0061557684


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Wonderful World is a Louis Armstrong song, an unpublished (and entirely invented) novel by Stephen King, and a rambling, exuberant, ambitious novel that is devilishly hard to review. It is a mashup of crime fiction, caper, dystopia, and family drama, with a dizzyingly large cast that includes an appealing if disaffected teenager who is awaiting the launch of a new Stephen King novel as if it's the second coming, an evil mother who has had so much plastic surgery she seems to be made of plastic, a white Rastafarian, a high-class prostitute, and two sets of colorful and violent thugs. Set in Barcelona, it has a narrative form reminiscent of Gaudi's cathedral – a monumental façade with features that are recognizable but strangely distorted, with a lot of visible construction going on inside its wide-open shell. The author has a fondness for Capitalized Phrases that Seem Significant and self-referential moments reminding the reader that this is a novel. The only parts of the narrative that read like a straight-up novel are the chapters of a purported Stephen King fiction about an alien invasion interspersed among the patchwork collage of multiple characters and their intersecting storylines.

You can take this two ways – it's either precocious or pretentious; audacious or abstruse; wicked smart or too clever by half. It has scenes that work, vivid, original characters, and funny observations. But the story is self-consciously a construction rather than a story and for many readers being lost in this book will only be in its negative sense. But if you enjoy the giddy cleverness of metafiction you may appreciate the way this book plays with its criminal elements.

As for the translation, it's so fluent you forget it was originally written in Spanish. The only jarring element comes from the translator's use of "that" for "who" – which apparently the editor agrees is an old-fashioned and unnecessary distinction.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, April 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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