Pass the bottle


Andrea Blanqué’s Fragilidad enters the void of Uruguay’s dark past and
a present of empty aspirations


Andrea Blanqué
2008, Alfaguara
223 pages

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

STRIP AWAY the alcoholic haze providing a narrative veneer in Fragilidad (Fragility) and there lie layers of disenchantment that speak soberly about the past traumas that make happiness so difficult to grasp.

While the author Andrea Blanqué has chosen two women as her protagonists, together they provide a critique of a more general Uruguayan condition in which material comfort is no substitute for peace of mind.

Anya is a middle-class woman whose apparently orderly bourgeois lifestyle conceals the hidden secret of her solitary alcoholism. The secretary of a bank executive, she tries to drown her nagging unhappiness – not least the fragility of her emotional ties, depicted through the distance of a husband more married to his work than his wife – by drinking, which, to make matters worse, is rarely social.

Her frequent and lonely forays into the decadent night of Montevideo throw up the shadows of a troubled society of boozers and drug users.

Blanqué creates a radical juxtaposition to her anti-heroine in Leda, whose life has been tinged by failure and pain since that day as a toddler when the soldiers of the dictatorship riddled the family home with gunfire as they swooped upon her unfortunate parents. Thus the present is shaped by the past: a legacy of tragedy that refuses to fade and has an unspoken, yet overbearing, influence. Yet Leda achieves a level of fulfillment that appears to elude Anya.

Ominous reminder

The author has constructed a rather ominous reminder of the price of past authoritarianism and, through Anya, the dilemmas faced by an individual who rejects the polarised society that it has bequeathed and must choose between regaining her humanity or the anodyne ideal of stability that she has had the misfortune of benefiting from.

The originality of Fragilidad lies in the very feminine journey it takes into alcoholism, a condition associated with men (and male writers). Initially, the heroine drinks alone without the vomit or violence of her male peers, but then begins to take her transgression into the latter’s territory. Far from exaggerating her emotions, the alcohol seems to dull them.

Her unhappiness is not just a response of classic feminine sensitivities to such predictable factors as the distance of her husband – the traditional sexist critique – but is also fuelled by her dissatisfaction about her own powerlessness in an unjust society. It takes us to a tipping point and a catharsis.

The book contains many clues to the author’s intentions, not least the literary references to Banana Yoshimoto, whose work explored a species of exhaustion and the efforts of women to find themselves, and who “speaks of girls who sleep during the day, of women who drink themselves comatose, slumped, of the dead who call from beyond”; and to Marguerite Duras, whose obsession with passion and death serves as a natural comparison to Anya’s numbness. The latter’s Moderato cantabile, cited by the author, also tells of a woman’s comfortable existence shattered by passion.

Blanqué’s solid narrative style and grounded reflections take the reader on a mature, existential journey. The author has well-honed observational skills and a capacity for exploring the intimate corners of her subjects’ emotions that were put to good use in a previous novel, La Pasajera (2003), which mines the void in a woman’s life.

The journey taken by Fragilidad also enters the void, spanning Uruguay’s dark past and a tarnished present of empty aspirations. It is one that, for Anya, has no destination other than apparent self-destruction.

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer

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