Mona: A Novel

by Pola Oloixarac

Other authorsAdam Morris (Translator)
Hardcover, 2021




Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2021), 192 pages


"A young Latin American author, newly successful, escapes her downward spiral of drugs and erotic detours in California only to find a fresh hell at an ultra-hip literary conference in Sweden"--

User reviews

LibraryThing member miss.mesmerized
Mona, a Peruvian writer who has been living in California for some years, is invited to Sweden as she has been nominated for the notable Basske-Wortz prize, one of the most renowned literary awards of Europe. Together with other authors from diverse countries, she is to spend a couple of days in a
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remote resort where they have talks and give presentations. Rivalry starts immediately, some of them Mona has known for years and met at literary festivals before, others she admires for their work. However, the young woman is not too much concerned with the possibility of being awarded a famous prize, it is her life that matters most at the moment. Her body is covered with bruises and she cannot recollect where they stem from. Also her abuse of diverse substances follows her to the Swedish secludedness – travelling to the end of the world does not mean you can escape your demons.

The setting the Argentinian writer Pola Oloixarac has chosen for her third novel is perfect for a small community under a magnifying lens. None of them can escape and they have to face each other – as well as themselves. For the protagonist Mona, she herself comes to scrutinise her very own situation: where does she stand as a writer and why does her current novel refuse to advance; where do these bruises come from which hurt and yet do not give a clue of what might have happened; how to people perceive and classify her as a woman of colour who, as a doctoral candidate at one of the most prestigious universities, penetrated into an area which normally is closed to people with her background.

Even though I found the ending rather confusing, I totally enjoyed reading the novel which is remarkable due to its strong protagonist and quite a unique tone of narration with strong images and brilliant use of language.
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LibraryThing member BibliophageOnCoffee
Delightfully bitchy. I didn't really "get" the ending, but I liked the unexpectedness of it.
LibraryThing member Eavans
“But I do believe that contempt is the lingua franca of our era, and on that I’ll bet we can both agree.”

This slim novel opens with the titular Mona boarding a plane to Sweden, having woken up earlier that day at a Bay Area Caltrans station, bruised, bloodied, and confused. Hiding the bruises
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(how long do bruises last?), Mona attend the literati event, where they will award one of the handful "world-lit" authors a statue and 200,000 euros.

This isn’t really a story about a writing event—it’s a psychological exploration of the double consciousness of modern life. it’s a world where art has been fully infected by the milquetoast upper-middle class and whatever their current flavour of politics allows, where identity is a commodity above reproach regardless if it's merited; it’s academia, it’s torpid and soulless political correctness, it’s death-inducing stillness disguised as enlightenment.

But this is also a story of doldrums of womanhood, the perfidy of desire, and the potential of power within the female body: framed by CW: SA a horrific date rape by a fellow Stanford PhD student, Mona (Mona?) and the reader are blind to the memory, instead caught on the wave of easy sex and desire a woman can command at the hands of men. Oloixarac writes of sex in a disgusting and frankly unsexual way, leaving her metaphors of beauty to the vagina: "But pussies, no: they could drift, lunge, fill and empty themselves like voracious gluttons." The high point of the novel for me was the character of Lena, a whip-smart, obese children's author who is Mona's only mental rival—she eviscerates her (and the reader) of the performative nature of womanhood, with its false lashes and litheness:

"'Look at you. Yes, you. You’re a complete caricature of a woman. Have you looked at yourself? You’re completely ridiculous. Covering yourself with that towel, like anyone cares what you’re hiding underneath it. Tell me what kind of woman gets in the sauna wearing fake eyelashes. Or do you think that nobody can tell? With your makeup, your designer clothes, your hyper-feminine affect … you think that you’re letting everyone see that you’re a victim of machismo, of a chauvinist culture that—even with its little touches of sophistication, like the literary world!—punishes all things feminine. But that doesn’t annul the total absurdity of your appearance. Don’t kid yourself—you’re certainly not fooling me! Where I’m going with all this is: We can’t write except in drag. We convert ourselves into something absurd because the absurd is already living inside us.'”

Mona is raw, and has bitten me a new one. I somehow feel alive again. Make no mistake: this is book girl's book. It's for other maladaptive, former (can we ever really be former?) anorexia-ridden aesthetes, who will ape the role of women for the beautiful ease of sex and the self-inflicted tortures of forever being second-class within it. Do we even want to be better? Shove off.

I haven't even talked about the filthy, filthy (kidding, it's really boring, but it's kinda supposed to be) literary references, and the double-backing that make this novel so satirical and damn intelligent. I won't drone on any longer: This novel is brilliant.
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