El beso de la mujer araña

Author: Manuel Puig
Year: 1976
Genre: Literary fiction

I read this years ago for a college seminar on voyeurism, and picked it up again, this time in the original, to practice my Spanish.

Other books have led me to write about how speech patterns and dialogue can be tools for characterization, but this book is nothing but dialogue and character. It's a story of two men in a prison cell in 1970s Argentina, the young political prisoner Valentin and the old homosexual Molina, and is written primarily as a record of their conversation. Aside from the talk about their lives in Buenos Aires and their hopes for when they are released, much of the novel is taken up with Molina's retelling the plots of films to pass the time.

Valentin does not talk like Molina. In fact, in developing his characters, Puig shows himself to be practically an applied sociolinguist. Their turn-taking and interrupting, politeness strategies, and discourse styles are distinct. For instance, it's my impression that Molina "talks like a woman," using more typically female conversational styles. (I wonder if Deborah Tannen would agree.) Not only is each character realized and developed through dialogue, but as their relationship grows, their speech patterns mirror those changes. They move away from the self-conscious stereotypes of the revolutionary (brusque, businesslike, analytical) and old queen (emotional, hypersensitive), and become more well-rounded personalities.

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