Friday, 4 July 2008

Nobody Expects The Spanish Kama Sutra

Can the story of a fictional Casanova be used as a love manual? When the author's repertoire includes such books you have to wonder. There should be a disclaimer on each copy, something to the effect of, "Not a substitute for Valentine Day cards or bouquets"). Cards are much cheaper.

The title is a play on Monty Python's "Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition"; no, I didn't expect to read a Spanish Kama Sutra. Did anybody expect the Spanish to win Euro 2008?

Stealing secrets

first published in The Star, 04 July 2008

Gone are the days when personal diaries were kept under lock and key. The delicious thrill of having your inner thoughts read by the masses are driving many towards blogging these days. Even Don Juan is getting into the act.

OK, so it's just Douglas Carlton Abrams, doing something akin to blogging. After co-authoring a few books on spirituality, love and sexuality, he tries his hand at narrative fiction, writing as Don Juan under the rather pedestrian title, The Lost Diary of Don Juan.

Kudos to Abrams for sneaking the handbook, How to Really, Really Love a Woman into this novel. Unfortunately, the package also includes How to Infuriate Said Woman's Parents, How to Tick Off Your Boss and How to Offend Fanatical, Uptight Clergymen – which I'm sure we all could do without.

Spain in the 16th century wasn't a very nice place. Plunder from the newly discovered American continent made the nation rich, but it brought about an increasingly venal, corrupt and "liberal" society. One of the results was Juan Tenorio.

Abandoned as an infant, Juan was raised in a monastery but ends up being a pickpocket and burglar in Sevilla. His "talents" soon catch the eye of the Marquis de la Mota, who trains him to steal secrets, and the hearts and virtues of women, especially those from his political rivals' households.

A slight deviation: Abrams' Don Juan goes on his rounds in a Zorro-like get-up, complete with a getaway vehicle, a carriage chauffeured by his loyal servant Cristóbal. I was half-expecting it to arrive at the Bat Cave on the next page, if not the next chapter. Fortunately, the campiness stops there.

At the height of his dubious career, Juan's patron nags him about writing a tell-all, intending to use it as blackmail material. Juan struggles with the request, knowing that he's expendable once it is completed – but he gets down to keeping one anyway. Even rogues need a hobby.

In Juan's point of view, he's no womaniser; he considers himself the balm of the lonely hearts of Sevilla's womenfolk. Of course, there is a very long queue of people who beg to differ, and pushing his way to the front is the Inquisitor Fray Ignacio de Estrada, who has pledged to rid the city of Juan at any cost.

In the face of these hazards is de la Mota's challenge: to steal the virtue of a chaste young noblewoman called Doña Ana. Juan accepts, and soon gets into the bad books of the woman's father. She proves to be a challenge for the suave, sweet-talking libertine, and eventually gets under his skin. Then, his boss shakes things up with his intention to marry Doña Ana.

Oh, the drama. What should Sevilla's notorious metrosexual do?

However, Abram's Don Juan is more than the stereotypical shallow, metrosexual narcissist. Juan is a loyal friend and faithful lover – the main reason for his (initial) reluctance to name names in his diary. He is also a good employer; in one chapter he even offers Cristóbal some advice on courtship. Towards the end, he reveals why he never laid one finger on the prostitutes in his best buddy's tavern.

You can see Abrams' application of his field of expertise everywhere – and that's the trouble with it. Hair-raising phrases like, "I sipped the moist nectar of her mouth as she opened her petals to me" abound, as well as his professions of "woe-is-me" and self-righteousness. There is also a totally unnecessary master-disciple scene, where terms like "Ultimate Skill" and "Supreme Pleasure" are bandied about (I am so glad kung fu was developed in the East).

To girlfriends and wives who think that The Lost Diary of Don Juan will help re-ignite that dying flame, do bear in mind that it's just a lit-fic novel. It's not a bad read, if you can stomach the cheesy parts so integral in such stories. Strange things happen when fiction is taken too seriously – remember The Da Vinci Code?

The Lost Diary of Don Juan
Douglas Carlton Abrams
Atria Books
307 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4165-4701-3


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