Isabel Bono Los Secondarioseditor of Tuskets, 2022, 176 pages, ISBN 9788411070850
The word happiness has no meaning when we can’t share our fears, joys, failures or dreams, and we decide to store everything in an old closet that has been locked for years in a storage room where no one else can enter. At a time when everything is moving very quickly and individuality and competitiveness prevail, some consider the best thing to do is to build a barrier that protects against any social bond. The image of people locked in their shells is generally the same: lonely, insecure, angry at their past and tired of the present. This is exactly what happened to Robin and Amalia, the protagonists of Isabel Bono’s new novel (born in Malaga in 1964). In his third book, entitled Los Secondarios Published by Editions Tusquets, Bono memorizes two characters from his previous novel Diario del Escu (2020): Two disillusioned creatures who act as if they are supporting two actors in their lives. Fernando Aramburu rightly said Isabel Buono’s prose is poisonous, but it is a good poison. Readers will find sharp and humorous writing in this story, but also the pain and cruelty that permeates every page.
To understand the tone of this work and above all the origins of the main characters, let’s go back to the antechamber Los Secondarios, Diario del AscoBono tells the story of Matteo, a man who feels he has failed in love, in his family, at work and even in his suicide attempt. When he got home, his psychiatrist advised him to keep a diary. Matteo tackles topics around death, love and above all the meaning of existence in a world where everyone seems compelled to be happy. “I hope you see life the way I see it. For me, we are all dead from the start.” Two years after telling this man’s story, Isabel Bono decided to focus on Robin, Matteo’s brother, and Amalia, his ex-wife, two characters who have already appeared. Diario del Escu But in the background. As in an episodic movie, the writer from Malaga decided to give them the main roles by describing their fears, traumas, desires and the feeling that existence passes without taking them into account.
García Márquez said that the beginning of a novel always sets the tone for the story, and that may be true. From the start, Robin, 43, who is gay, explained his character: “Today, I wear a mask, the mask I always hide, the mask of who I am.” For her part, Amalia defines herself as someone who lies to everyone, is selfish and has never loved anyone. The meeting between these two characters, who were brother-in-law and sister, takes place in the middle of the novel, when they meet at the door of the huge building in which they have lived for years. Not only do Robin and Amalia discover that they have been longtime neighbors, but they also share a vital frustration that they’ve been running for years.
They each have their problems and these explain many of their actions and ways of responding. Robin is a victim of loneliness, a victim of his own frustrated love, and his obsessions. He has always tried to fit in, in vain, and maintains a constant fear of not being accepted into the group. The first thing this character reveals to us is his unspeakable affair, something he’s been dragging on since he was 14 and he’s never been able to get over it. Robin is also strongly influenced by family circumstances. On the other hand, he suffers from the rejection of his father, an extremely cold and masculine man who despises his way of being and his sexual orientation, which prompted him to run away from home. On the other hand, he did not get over the suicide of his alcoholic mother. The place is so desolate that one feels sad reading these notes, as well as sympathy for Robin. From his story, it is easy to understand that he could have a lot of resentment towards existence. The closeness that can arise between the characters and the readers is a distinguishing point of this novel, because the author, through the descriptions, makes us feel more pity than contempt.
In the case of Amalia, Matteo’s ex-wife, we find a less dramatic but downright depressing picture. Rooted in an ongoing competitive relationship with her sister since she was young, she appears immersed in daily dramas and suffers a lot from the deep loneliness that she lives in her whole life. The revealing episode is the one in which Amalia says she spends a morning alone in her apartment, and the noise around her makes her suffer because she imagines everyone is in the company but her. The heroine of the novel can remind us of a kind of Madame Bovary of the twenty-first century, she is so unsatisfied as a dreamer. The problem is not that she has no goals, but that her plans never come to fruition. For example, when she moves into her small apartment, she buys a lot of things to receive visitors and after four years no one has visited her yet. All this means is that insecurity has accompanied her throughout her life, as she explained on one of her long tours, when she asserted that her sister does much better things than her. So sad is the way she described her marriage to Matteo, the only permanent relationship she had in her life, as a mere formality, something socially comfortable that had nothing to do with her personal desire.
With their emotional baggage, Amalia and Robin share the experiences in a conversation much like a monologue from each, with the support of the other. A distinctive example of their relationship: when they toast on their first date, they do so in the name of “losers.” as if they needed each other to reflect their own experiences; They both seem to handle the mid-level better when they do it together.
This is precisely one of the questions hovering above work: are they talking or are they unloading? The second premise is preferred because the two characters seem to take care of only themselves, as they clearly show in their statements. “I don’t want to be with anyone,” Robin says. Amalia tries to convince herself, “I can’t make this escape a habit.” Since she is more talkative than Robin, her desire to talk is more pronounced. It is ultimately a meeting of two characters who maintain an atypical, even bizarre, and highly lopsided relationship even in their conversations. But their isolation keeps them from seeing each other in spite of everything.
The story structure is simple without being simplistic. The narration, in the present and in the first person singular form, sometimes sees the third person interfering in the same paragraph. Likewise, the speed and naturalness with which the author intertwines the present and the past to weave the characters’ memories are fascinating. The prose is clean and clear, without too much flaunting of style because he doesn’t need it. Isabel Bono provides a reflection on the complexity of human relationships and explores their darkest labyrinths, all those angles that reveal resentment, grudges and even disgust with certain situations and personalities. Apathy is present throughout the novel and highlights the anhedonia so typical of our time. Isabel Bono likes to put her finger where it hurts and you can feel it the way she raises initial issues with her incomparable sense of humor. The setting in which the novel takes place, this gray building, also reflects this unpleasant atmosphere and all the grudges that the characters hide and that stifle them a little more every day.
Although it is inevitable to think of the grief overflowing from work, we are not faced with a pessimistic narrative, quite the contrary. Bono pays tribute to all those who live in the hope of something better, those who are on the fringes of society, on the edge of mediocrity and yet have a lot to say. Despite all the misfortunes they may have experienced, Amalia and Robin still hope for a better future, an event that allows them to lead a truly happy life where they can leave their past differences behind. The novel ends at the end of the conversation with a monologue limp. In the image of all those who live on the run from themselves, the writer asks the central question in the novel: Are there not also interesting plots in the secondary stories, which deserve to appear in the foreground? The answer is left to the readers, who will judge whether the nuances of the secondary characters have anything to envy. For my part, I would say no.