Book Notes: Natural Law by Ignacio Martínez de Pisón

You know how some books are announced as fast-paced, keeping you on the edge of your seat, and breathless? Natural Law is the exact opposite. It’s very unhurried. The narrator is in absolutely no rush whatsoever to get anywhere. As a result, reading the novel becomes a powerful experience because it forces you to slow down, take a deep breath, and stop rushing. It’s almost meditative in nature.

The story is good, too. A deadbeat dad, an eccentric mom, and 4 kids who try to build their own lives in the midst of extreme familial dysfunction.

Still, the novel doesn’t live up to its potential. The reason why it’s not a work of art is the first-person narrator. His name is Ángel, and he is, indeed, so angelical, so excruciatingly perfect, so dauntingly flawless that you want to hit him over the head two minutes into the 500-page narrative of his unmarred perfection. The novel traces Ángel’s life from early childhood to adulthood but it isn’t a Bildungsroman because there’s no Bildung. Ángel remains exactly the same at every stage of his life. The same, terribly annoying and completely robotic individual. The author tried to humanize Ángel by giving him a love interest but that didn’t work either. Ángel’s constant protestations that he loves Irene fall flat because of his placidly indifferent reaction to Irene’s extreme promiscuity, drug addiction, and a penchant for humiliating Ángel.

Natural Law is set during Spain’s transition to democracy, a time of extraordinary change in every aspect of people’s lives. You can see how those changes impact everybody in the novel (except, of course, the Android Ángel) and think about what it means to live in a time of epochal changes. This has become a crucial question, and we all are answering it whether we want to or not.

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