Tuesday, 30 August 2011
Bad Nature, or with Elvis in Mexico.
Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico - Javier Marias
Language is a dangerous commodity. How we use it can determine our fate. It is a vessel for memory. It can be used not just to decide what happens, but also what happened. So when it is decided that Elvis never went to Mexico to shoot some scenes from Fun in Acupulco, so it is. This however, threatens the very being of our narrator, for whom his time in Mexico with Elvis was a lifechanging experience.
The book opens with a long meditation on being hunted and I was reminded of the electric performance of Lee Marvin in Richard Stark's Point Blank: "your pursuers do nothing but search for you, chase you twenty-four hours a day: you're convinced that they don't eat or sleep, they don't drink or even stop for one second, their venomous footsteps are incessant and tireless and there is no rest; they have neither wife nor child nor needs, they don't go to the bathroom or pause to chat, they don't get laid or go to soccer games, they don't have television sets or homes, at most they have cars to chase you with."
The title is intriguing - is it suggesting the nature is bad, that this story includes someone with a 'bad nature' or is it a flippant pointer to the fact that this is not realist fiction. And I am not equipped to tell if these readings apply to the original Spanish title Mala Indole.
Part of the fun to be found in this novel springs from his use of Elvis as one of the main characters. The narrator's musing on him at times reminded me of passages in Greil Marcus' magisterial Mystery Train. How did he deal with such a surfeit of adultation? How did he retain some form of dignity when making those appalling movies? This is a myth about a figure who has become more myth than person.
"Every time I watched them shoot a scene I thought, "Oh no, my God, not that Señor Presley.."
Hanging out with Elvis was a tiring experience because 'his endurance was incomparable, a man in a perpetual state of explosion." Late night flights from Acupulco to Mexico City led to tequila, dancefloors, whitewashed gangsters, handkerchief wars and much besides.
To find out what is hiding behind that 'much besides' you should read this book. It won't take long as this books hovers between being a long short story or a short novella.