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the Complete Review
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Holy Place

Carlos Fuentes

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Title: Holy Place
Author: Carlos Fuentes
Genre: Novel
Written: 1967 (Eng. 1972)
Length: 144 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Holy Place - US
Holy Place - UK
Holy Place - Canada
Zona sagrada - España
  • Spanish title: Zona sagrada
  • Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine
  • The story is apparently based on the real-life Mexican movie star María Félix and her son, Enrique

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Our Assessment:

B : creative, surreal novella

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Atlantic Monthly . 10/1972 Phoebe Adams
The Nation . 11/6/1973 Ronald de Feo
The NY Rev. of Books . 19/4/1973 Michael Wood
The NY Times Book Rev. . 24/12/1972 E. R. Monegal

  From the Reviews:
  • "A text that parodies many other texts and that at times parodies itself, Holy Place extracts the necessary energy from the vulgarity of its real sources (it is also a roman à clef) to unfold as a dazzling, almost hypnotic short novel." - E. Rodriguez Monegal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Holy Place is narrated by Guillermo, the son of a famous Mexican actress, Claudia Nervo. Claudia is an international star, a vamp, and not the greatest of moms. Guillermo idolizes her, and his entire identity is tied up in hers: "I am the son of Claudia Nervo: that's my niche, that's my social label. Nothing else." Mom is a bit less enthusiastic about her raving son, and by the end of the novella his identity is, in fact, transformed.
       Guillermo is a true dandy, too, all affectation -- though his focus is decidedly on the maternal. His ambitions are limited. Unlike his mother, who is always in the public eye, whether in person, on film, or in photographs, he has practically no audience. He makes his proclamations to long-lost idols:

I will live and sleep, Baudelaire, before a mirror, I will be the perfect, unemotional dandy whose artifice allows him to survive the illusions, survive the illusions, that you dreamed. I will live and sleep.
       Claudia's star brightens, and Guillermo can do little more than venerate it. Even this is not satisfying, as his worship is not particularly welcome. Guillermo strays about, finding little fulfillment. "There are only transfigurations", he acknowledges, and he ultimately chooses such a transfiguration for himself.
       Fuentes' text comes in three parts -- short introductory and concluding sections, and a much longer central one, divided into short chapters. With short epigraphs (many with as few as four words) by Borges, Sade, Godard, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (among others), it is a clever literary concoction, a neat counterpoint of the artificial 1960s (in which Claudia fits so well) and the also artificial fin-de-siècle (which out of place Guillermo is drawn to). There are also references to the myths of old, cleverly reimagined by Guillermo (in best decadent style) -- notably in the opening section, in which Ulysses is reconsidered.
       Set largely in Europe -- Italy, Switzerland -- the central characters are nevertheless decidedly Mexican. The stage is an international one, the story firmly rooted in the Mexican.
       There is a fair amount of dialogue, as well as Guillermo's descriptions of his various efforts to find his own place, either outside of his mother's shadow or completely within it. Fuentes' style and set-up are somewhat reminiscent of Manuel Puig's cinematic novels. Fuentes' surreal view of the late 1960s and the cult of film-celebrity makes for an amusing entertainment. A weird, wild journey, Holy Place is a fun experimental read.

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Carlos Fuentes: Other books by Carlos Fuentes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Carlos Fuentes lived 1928 to 2012. Winner of the Venezuelan Romulo Gallegos Prize (for Terra Nostra) and the Cervantes Prize (1997). He has taught at Harvard, Princeton, Brown, and Columbia, among other universities.

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