When the freedom of the night turns to deadly obsession …
An LGBT+ novel of the Barcelona night in a year of sex, drugs and deception. Two artists, addicted to a nightlife that thwarts their ambitions, fall under the aura of the enigmatic Celia. The games they are learning to play draw all three into conflict, leading them to the truth of Celia’s Room.
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An LGBT+ novel of the Barcelona night in a year of sex, drugs and deception. Told through their own eyes, sensitive Joaquim – whose passion for painting will propel him into the artist’s life – and cynical Eduardo – addicted to a nightlife that thwarts his ambition to write – unveil a conflicted, shadowy city, personified by the enigmatic Celia. Despite their violently contrasting natures, Joaquim and Eduardo both fall under Celia’s aura. The games they are learning to play will draw all three into conflict – against the backdrop of a city that is also rehearsing a new identity – leading them inexorably towards the truth of Celia’s Room.
These are the heirs to Jean Genet’s underworld in A Thief’s Journal, a world which Nazario describes brilliantly in El bar Kike y Paca la Tomate and elsewhere. That collection of tawdry gay bars huddled around Plaça Reial in the late 80s and early 90s, long before the Gaixample existed, was perhaps even more vibrant, decadent, drug-fuelled and anarchic than the Madrid movida made famous by directors like Almodóvar – yet no less deservedly famous.
If you like Kerouac or Isherwood you will love Celia’s Room.
If you know Barcelona you will find the descriptions and characters completely authentic. I could almost smell the Gothic barrio.
I picked this novel up on a Sunday morning, intending only to read the opening salvo to decide whether I liked it enough to take with me on the train to work the next day. I didn’t put it down until I’d finished it five and a half hours later. It is gripping, intelligent and deeply sensual but also witty and fast-moving. I found it utterly compelling.
The plot follows a returning expat ingenu as he feels his way around Barcelona at the end of the eighties. He is enticed by the sexually liberated Bohemia of a city still experimenting after the death of Franco and dictatorship but bound by the memories of religious stricture. Nobody is quite what they seem and his moments of naive joy are cracked open by prejudice, poverty and an undercurrent of menace.
It is packed with shady eccentric characters and sharp poetic imagery. There are also passages of almost scholarly historic reference and beautiful expositions of particularly poignant works of art that give the plot a rich cultural context.
It’s also funny and very very entertaining… worth reading. And I hope this is an author worth watching out for.”
…successfully captures the zeitgeist of Barcelona
Nothing is quite as it seems. This book rejoices in ambiguity and ambivalence, successfully capturing the zeitgeist of Barcelona in the period when the optimism and openness precipitated by the restoration of democracy in Spain was fading as the ETA terrorist campaign continued to take lives, political corruption was exposed by the uncensored media, and the city began to undergo massive redevelopment for the Olympic Games of 1992.
Set mainly in the medieval Ciutat Vella (Old City), occasionally moving out to Camp Nou and the leafier uptown districts, the story unfolds through events narrated by two young men with very different backgrounds, perspectives and prospects. Both are engulfed by a nocturnal social milieu that will be immediately recognisable to anyone who experienced the last days of the notorious Barrio Chino before swathes of it were demolished to make way for the antiseptic Rambla del Raval.
Eduardo, a diplomat’s son used to a cosmopolitan life of privilege but traumatised by violent loss, is simultaneously dismissive of and drawn to tawdry “lowlife” decadence, distracting him from his career path. Joaquim, escaping a stultifying rural Catalan background and intent on becoming an artist, is easily entranced by flamboyance, and soon exploited to paint and decorate the interior of an aristocratic but dilapidated old mansion inhabited by a colourful cast of exotic characters with shady sources of income. Of these, the most enigmatic is Celia, a beautiful outsider who remains out of focus until the climax.
While most of the protagonists are recognisable Barcelona “types”, their personalities are not so much stereotypical as archetypal, rendered believable by ordinary human frailties. This is particularly true of Celia, whose mystique is heightened by infrequent but powerful utterances.
The narrators’ depictions of alcohol-driven, drug-fuelled bohemian nights of poetry and song, revolving between bars, after-hours dives and shared flats in the Gothic Quarter, contrast with their personal moments of unease and self-doubt. Misunderstandings amongst the revellers induce mistrust, jealousy, anger and shame. The inaugural house party held in the mansion to celebrate the pagan Vispera de Sant Joan (Midsummer’s Eve) brings these tensions to a sharp explosion of revelations and epiphanies.
The author’s knowledge and love of Barcelona are clear from his vivid descriptions of places, architecture and ambience. Another reviewer rightly admired the “passages of almost scholarly historic reference and beautiful expositions of particularly poignant works of art that give the plot a rich cultural context”.
There are some lovely turns of phrase, with flashes of poetic imagery, startling similes and curious metaphors. The tone ranges from lightly self-deprecating to deeply philosophical, with some parts written in an almost scientifically disinterested style and others using language so alluring and sensual as to qualify as genuinely erotic, without being pornographic.
Celia’s Room is not a flawless masterpiece, and could have done with some editing. However, this is the author’s first adult novel, and given the theme(s), he can hardly be faulted for beginning in a somewhat fumbling style, increasing in confidence and rhythm as the story unfurls.
As a meditation on sexuality, I found Celia’s Room insightful and thought provoking. Perhaps more importantly, I enjoyed the story a lot, and at times laughed out loud. This intelligent and entertaining book is fun, and definitely well worth reading!
absolutely real and true to life
Celia’s Room arrived early this week. I finished it last night and loved it. You kept me up late, I was so keen to know what would happen that I kept on going. Loved the character of Edu, absolutely real and true to life. I hope there is a queue at your door bidding for the film rights, it would make a great film. It makes a pretty bloody good novel too. I’ll look out for the next one.
As far as language goes it’s one of the more beautiful books that I’ve read
The language in this book is beautiful, like the paintings the author describes. It’s the story of two young men whose lives collide in Barcelona in the years preceding the Olympic Games. From two different worlds they meet in a third; one reluctantly embracing it, the other repelled but drawn to it. Celia, while not the central character, is the catalyst who moves the two towards the ending. As far as language goes it’s one of the more beautiful books that I’ve read.
quite an unusual book but a great read and it kept me up late for a couple of nights
This is an extremely poignant book describing a period in Barcelona’s history before it became such a tourist destination as it is now. I was lucky enough to visit the city a couple of years before this book is set (in 1988) so I was able to identify with the “shadowyness” the author describes. It was still a thoroughly vibrant city as only Spanish cities can be and I remember a few wonderfully chaotic nights as take place between Joaquin, Edu, Narciso and all the other wonderful types who spill out of these pages.
This is quite an unusual book but a great read and it kept me up late for a couple of nights, just wanting to know how it would end. It is a beautifully compelling read.
Compelling! I want to visit Barcelona!
It started off very descriptive though the main characters relationship with his father was really moving. Then it got more and more exciting as he travelled by train to Barcelona.
One of those books I wanted to keep reading, just couldn’t put it down! I hope a new one comes out soon cos this was really compelling quite different to anything I ahd read, sort of a thriller, but very moving too.
And the character of Edwardo was really funny too, he had some great lines! He was kind of arrogant and funny at the same time.
Definitely worth reading this one!