The Dolls' Room

Llorenc Villalonga, Author Trafalgar Square Publishing $19.95 (268p) ISBN 978-0-233-98198-7
So richly imagined, penetratingly subtle and gracefully and intelligently written is Villalonga's novel, first published in Spain in 1956, it is a puzzle that this minor masterpiece has been so long in reaching the English-speaking world. The author's idiosyncratic ``portrait, or . . . poem of Mallorca'' of the second half of the 19th century has been justly compared to Lampedusa's Il Gattopardo. Like the Sicilian Lampedusa, the Mallorcan Villalonga's familial heritage of fading nobility is his fictional subject, and his writing is, in its highly cultured worldliness and acute self-awareness, aristocratic in the best sense. The novel is an account of the end of the noble house of Bearn by Don Joan Mayol, the young chaplain to that family, shortly after the sudden and problematical deaths of the aged and issueless Don Toni and Dona Maria Antonia during a masked ball held in their ancestral home. Villalonga weaves a complex, nuanced account of decadence by means of subtle interplay between the narrator's simple, naive good will and the perplexing object of his scrutiny: Don Toni, whose rational intellect is juxtaposed with his complicatedly libidinous and destructive personality. If the reader can see farther than the narrator, it is not at the expense of respect for Don Joan; and the secret of the ``Doll's Room''--unopened for 25 years, where Don Felipe, an eminent and ostensibly virile Bearn ancestor had scandalously and mysteriously secluded himself to dress dolls--tantalizes both enigmatically. Villalonga's elegance and sophistication as a storyteller and his ability vividly to summon up the Paris and Rome as well as Mallorca of the last century with keen insight, interspersed with occasional hilarity, makes one hope that more of his work will appear in translation soon. (May)
Reviewed on: 07/06/1989
Release date: 07/01/1989
Paperback - 247 pages - 978-1-56478-612-8
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