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Novel set in Bogotá (Manicures. Massage. Murder)

17th March 2018

House of Beauty by  Melba Escobar, novel set in Bogotá.

“..men do whatever they like, while we women do what falls to us.

Novel set in Bogotá

I have never knowingly read a novel set in Bogotá and was delighted to immerse myself in the querulous city portrayed in this novel, full of drama and life, safe in the knowledge that I was not part of the lives portrayed.

The narrative is like a camera on the lives of people, taken from multiple angles and perspectives. At the heart is Karen, who is working in the city, whilst her son Emiliano is cared for at the coast by her mother. The brief and sporadic phone calls to her son are insufficient to quell her sadness at being parted from her offspring.. She is saving diligently to be able to bring him to the big city and she has found employment as a beautician at the “House of Beauty” in the exclusive Zona Rosa area of the city, tending to the needs of her largely female clientele. She is saving the money she earns, stashing it under her mattress.

The opening chapter is written from the perspective of Claire, a psychotherapist, who happens to venture into the parlour. Over time she tries to forge a connection with Karen. She is just one of the characters who is given a voice.

A traumatic couple of events in Karen’s life force her into a very different trajectory and it is her struggle to maintain an equilibrium on all levels – financially, emotionally and mentally – which is the main thrust of the storyline.

Bogotá is a mad bad city, and many of the people who cross paths with Karen are mad and bad too. For me, there were just too many snatched details of lives which just couldn’t be cohesively explored and corralled in a book of around 250 pages. The tenet of the story was interesting but never really flourished. It started out promisingly, the writer has a good writing style and the book seems well translated. It tackles prostitution, male dominance, self harm, violence, poverty, class, race and other themes, again, too many to dovetail neatly into this single story…

I found it hard to sustain my interest, the story became too disordered and ultimately morphed into a depressing read, rooted as it is in universal real life.

It is, however, good on setting and little details of the city and its ways are well portrayed.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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