The Adventure of the Busts of Eva Perón, by Carlos Gamerro, translated by Ian Barnett in collaboration with the author, published 2015 by And Other Stories
I told someone recently that - no matter how dull it makes me sound - I have to admit I'm not a fan of humorous books. It's hard to explain - I can recognise the humour, even enjoy it, but I'm rarely drawn in to the story as well. I got The Rosie Project for Christmas, started it and some bits made me laugh out loud... but did I finish it? Nope.
All of which is a way of saying that I make an exception for Carlos Gamerro. After having read The Islands, I knew I'd have to pick up The Adventure of the Busts of Eva Perón as well, and as I tweeted shortly after starting it, it made me chuckle and cringe in turn.
The novel's hero/anti-hero is junior executive Ernesto Marroné, whose boss - the vile Fausto Tamerlán - has been abducted by left-wing guerrillas in Argentina of the mid-1970s. Marroné is distracted from the various preoccupations presented by his bowel problems, his sexual inadequacies, and his family woes, as he embarks on a wild quest to save his superior and bag himself a promotion into the bargain.
The abductors have demanded a ransom including a bust of Evita in every one of the company's offices. Visiting the plasterworks to order the 92 busts required, Marroné is caught up in a factory takeover by the workers and ends up going to unimagined lengths to procure the necessary Evas.
Gamerro's prose, ably translated by Ian Barnett, is as dark and twisted as the plot, as we and the protagonist lurch from misadventure to misadventure, fuelled by Marroné's trusty executive self-help books. The novel presents a capitalist nightmare - and its equally bad alternative. I laughed out loud, but in horror as well as amusement, because the story is teetering on the brink of the "Dirty War", and if it contains corruption, violence and crime, we know there is worse to come.
I loved this satirical take on 1970s Argentina - although, as with The Islands, I wondered if the average English-speaking reader had enough information to appreciate it all. Perhaps a few judicious footnotes (Montoneros? Triple A? López Rega? Is the reader just supposed to Wikipedia them?) wouldn't have gone amiss. For that reason I would be a little hesitant to recommend it generally. But for me - well, I guess I'm the target audience - and for others prepared to take a little time to absorb the history of the period, this novel pays off.