What We Thought: Every now and again a reader comes across a book which is a perfect fit. For me, this is one of those books. I had very little idea of what Celia’s Room was about before I started reading it, so it was a true pleasure to enter this world and discover it was one I was comfortable in.
Alternating chapters tell the first person stories of two young men: Joaquim and Eduardo. Barcelona is almost a third protagonist in this beautifully written novel as we wind through its streets, its bars, and its subcultures uncovering its secrets and its secret places.
Joaquim, an artist, and Eduardo, a business student, are polar opposites involved with a group of friquis that includes the flamboyant Caribbean Narcissus, Alvaro his lover, a host of minor characters, and of course Celia, a prostitute of dubious gender. Narcissus inveigles Joaquim into stumping up the rent on a decaying mansion and the freaks move in. There are grand plans to restore the house to its former glory but little is likely to come of it. The seedy grandeur of the former ballroom, with its peeling wallpaper and crumbling plaster, provides the perfect backdrop for this strange collection of people and their drug-infused dreams.
Both Joaquim and Eduardo fall under the spell of Celia who is mysterious, voluptuous and aloof. Eduardo is both attracted and repelled; this is not the life he wants for himself and he merely skirts the fringes of group. His brutish behaviour hides his pain at the loss of his father and sister; his entanglement with Celia almost destroys his relationship with his girlfriend Fra.
Joaquim is disturbed by his own sexual confusion. He is drawn to both Celia and Narcissus though an undercurrent of distrust unbalances him. He paints portraits of each them, not knowing if his work is good or bad, or if it will be received positively, or even if he will ever reveal it at all.
This richly allusive novel has its own mysterious voluptuousness – the prose is studded with gems and brilliant flashes. There is often a dreamlike underwater feel to the narrative yet it is always fully alive. Behind the beauty we sense the dread, the fear of what may come, the fragile hold on love and friendship that may turn out not to be that at all.
With Celia’s Room Kevin Booth has created a minor masterpiece.
You’ll enjoy this if you like: Almodóvar films.
Avoid if you dislike: Gender-bending; prose and characterisation over plot.
Ideal accompaniments: As much drink and drugs as you can handle.
Genre: Literary Fiction, Gay & Lesbian.
Available from Amazon