Book Quote:

“The world is wonderful because the world is horrible. And therein lies [a] great wisdom. The crazies get on a bus with a bomb and kill all the passengers. Or that gigantic wave that was on every TV news show. Those are things that make the world wonderful…A world like us. For us. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Mary Whipple (MAY 30, 2009)

Filled with the fragmentation, incoherence and ambiguity that typify much of post-modernist thought, Wonderful World is a challenge for the reader, since the very characteristics which make it “post-modern” are also characteristics which are off-putting for readers who expect a novel to have a clear beginning, middle, and end. And when that novel is almost five hundred pages long, the challenges are even more daunting, since it is difficult to know how much of the incoherence and fragmentation is deliberate and how much may be the result of less than rigorous editing.

In his first novel published in English, Spanish author Javier Calvo creates a dynamic novel which explodes in several different directions at once by the sheer energy of his writing. Setting the story primarily in contemporary Barcelona, he introduces several plot lines which progress seemingly independently, and without explanation, for the first third of the novel, and while they and the huge cast of characters do eventually overlap, the overlaps are almost irrelevant by the conclusion of the novel.

The novel opens thirty years in the past in a bizarre, mood-setting scene in which Lorenzo Giraut, the most important antiques dealer in Spain, hides in a protective “hut” he has made from furniture and a mattress in the living room of an apartment in Camber Sands. Pope John Paul I has just died, the skies are filled with storm clouds and lightning, police cars are screaming, the “American Liaison” is climbing out the window of Lorenzo’s room, and the word “captors” comes inexplicably to Giraut’s mind.

Immediately, the scene shifts to twelve-year-old Valentina Parini, a lover of Stephen King novels, who is awaiting his next book, Wonderful World, due out in less than three weeks. Valentina has written her own book about the decapitation of the girls’ basketball coach and a bomb in her school locker room, and she plans to read it at the school talent show.

In successive scenes, a young engaged couple, vacationing in Ibiza, is told they must pay their hotel bill immediately, though he is out of money. Fanny Giraut, widow of Lorenzo Giraut, is plotting a takeover of the family business from her son Lucas, the legal heir. Lucas, in turn, is planning a major art heist with the aid of four demented criminals. Chapters of the (fictional) Stephen King book are unfolding, with a climactic battle taking place as humans try to escape “Them.” In “real” life, a war between two gangs associated with Lucas’s father Lorenzo plays out in dream sequences, as Lucas tries to unravel who betrayed his father, while his own crooks and a group of Russians compete for the same ill-gotten rewards.

Switching back and forth among plot lines and through different times, Calvo creates a wild, nightmarish world, filled with uninhibited, bawdy humor; violent sex; psychological breakdown; low-life women from all social classes , and even the history of Pink Floyd and its parallels to “life.” The characters are unknowable, though they are fully described, and their predicaments do not arouse empathy.

Unfortunately, long passages of description bog down the novel and dilute its effect—the details of an unimportant episode of “Friends,” being watched by one character, runs to three full pages, for example, and the irrelevant description of a car race for children runs for about the same length. Calvo is, however, a multi-talented young writer. His exuberance and energy operate full tilt for the entire novel, and with some judicious editing of his lengthy descriptions, he may find a broad audience in the English-speaking world for his next novel.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 1 readers
PUBLISHER: Harper; 1 edition (March 17, 2009)
REVIEWER: Mary Whipple
AMAZON PAGE: Wonderful World
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Javier Calvo
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and or Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: If you like this, try:
The Raw Shark Textsby Steven HallThe Amnesiac by Sam Taylor


  • Canned Laughs: Stories (2001)
  • The Reflecting God (2003)
  • The Lost Rivers of London (2005)
  • Wonderful World (2007; March 2009 in US)

May 31, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Spain, World Lit

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