"The Carnivorous Lamb" by Agustin Gomez-Arcos

This summer I got to read Agustin Gomez-Arcos' brilliant novel "The Carnivorous Lamb" and all I can say is: how come I hadn't heard about this book before? It's wonderful, amazing, one of the best books I've ever read and I fell in love with it straight away.

First published in French (and titled "L'agneau carnivore") in 1975, this novel written by a Spanish author who immigrated to first London, then Paris, is an allegorical criticism of Franco's Spain and its Catholic Church. It tells the story of a young boy who grows up during Franco's regime in a decaying house, cut off from the rest of the world. When first he is born, he refuses to open his eyes for 15 days as a protest to the world into which he is born, and when he finally opens them, it is only to look at his 6 years older brother. His mother, who belongs to a wealthy family, that aligned with Franco’s Nationalists, hates him. His father, who is a Republican saved from imprisonment by his wife's wealth, ignores him. But his brother, Antonio, loves him and becomes his mentor, saviour and eventually - as the young boy is not allowed outside the house - his lover.

The incestuous love between the two brothers spears Franco, Catholicism, Spain, family, morals in this dark, biting tale with its vicious humour and social absurdity that is so often characteristic of Spanish literature. The psychological portraits of the characters are deep and twisted; the mother, so sickly absorbed in death, cataclysms and "yellowness", the father, withering away in his study to the voice of Franco, the maid Clara, a childhood friend of the parents, who lost her husband during the Civil War, and then of course the boys. Antonio, who looks so much like his father and the young narrator (we don't get to know his name until the very end of the story, so I won't use it here as it is part of the plot), who looks so much like his mother. As the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that the incestuous relationship between the brothers is not only their rejection of the world into which they are born, but also the subtle revenge of the grown-ups on society.

"The Carnivorous Lamb" is like no other book I have ever read. Although my thoughts sometimes wandered to Gabriel Garcia-Marquez' "Autumn of the Patriarch", to William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" and even to Floortje Zwigtman's Adrian Mayfield-series, it clearly has its own vile, dark, funny, political, psychological and sensual voice. The language is beautiful, the metaphors and allegories are amazing and the story is one you'll never forget. I just wish I had discovered this book years ago, so that I would have been able read it a hundred times more than I will now.

Five out of five stars: *****

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