Summary: Celia and Fernando, a couple suddenly alone after their only daughter marries, embark on a cruise to the Caribbean islands to revitalize their own sagging marriage. With the complicity of another passenger, the mysterious Julieta, Celia and Fernando lose themselves and their inhibitions as they turn to others to fulfill their fantasies of passion and destruction. As visitors on exotic soils, made delirious by the heat and their own heady lusts, the aging lovers mix fantasy and reality until their wild adventure burns itself out, nearly taking them with it.
The Last Night I Spent With You, by Mayra Montero 7.5
While reading ‘Deep Purple‘, I felt compelled to get another of Mayra Montero’s books. Although I wasn’t bowled over with the story or the characters, I was impressed that she had actually managed to turn me on with her words; she had created images in my mind that were inescapably erotic. And, frankly, I wanted more of that.
Realizing that exploring an unfamiliar author’s oeuvre is a crap shoot at best, I decided to look online for hints of a sure-fire hit, one that would likely take me to a similar headspace. From what I could tell, most of her works were highly rated, but the one that was clearly erotic was ‘The Last Night I Spent With You’.
I loved its near-monochromatic cover, which shows a long-haired woman pulling her hair over her shoulder, revealing her naked back. So I requested it from my local library, and the moment I was done with ‘Deep Purple’, I sank my teeth right into it.
Once again, I wasn’t all that fascinated with the story. It concerns a middle-aged couple who are out on a Caribbean cruise. The husband, Fernando, is eyeing a woman that his spouse, Celia, just befriended, a recently widowed harp player named Julieta. Meanwhile, dejected, Celia will have relations with some of the locals.
Much of the book is composed of their sexual adventures, both present and past. While most of Fernando’s are with Julieta, with some reminisces, Celia will mostly be reliving an affair that she’d had – one that her spouse has no clue took place. Between the two of them, the book is a steamy journey through the islands.
The story shifts from Fernando to Celia from one chapter to the next, with interstitial bits composed of excerpts from love letters, the authors of which remain undisclosed until the end. What I liked most about this format was just how delicious it was to read each spouse’s presumptions proven false by going into the other person’s reality.
We all assume that we know and understand our partners very well, having been with them for extended periods of time. But the reality is that we don’t really know anyone; we have impressions of them based on our observations and what they choose to reveal to us. And let’s face it: most people don’t know themselves especially well, so how much can they truly reveal?
It was quite amusing to see the contrast between their perceptions and reality.
Perception is everything, and I was amazed to find that Fernando considers himself a good, faithful husband, for having only cheated on Celia two or three times over the course of their lengthy marriage. WTF. Was he purposely self-delusional in order to live with his guilt, or did he truly believe that crap? What a jerk!
Of course, Celia is no saint either, as evidenced by the passionate affair that she had with a scoundrel she met while visiting her ailing father. She completely took leave of her senses in those moments and some of the things that she was up to could drain the blood from Fernando’s face; it got really dirty.
I loved that Celia’s moments were even nastier than Fernando’s because it turned the tables on the assumption we all make – which is that men are the nasty ones. Women can also get nasty. I think it’s due time that we put to rest these ridiculous pre-conceived notions: that men are the sexual ones, not women.
I was slightly put off by some of the language in ‘Deep Purple’, which frequently found the narrator using violence to describe sex (ex: battle, weapon, …etc.). I had chalked it up to the protagonist’s machismo, knowing full well that some men actually speak this way, but I never expected it to be utilized in the same manner here.
It’s used by both sides here; it’s not machismo. I just wonder if it’s laziness on Montero’s part, that she failed to give her characters more distinctive voices, or if this is merely common parlance for her and we’d find the same expressions in all her books. Personally, I don’t see lovemaking as a battle; I despise the very notion.
Another thing that surprised me was that, like ‘Deep Purple’, which featured a classical music critic, there are also references to music here, especially to the bolero – many of them. And there’s also the matter of Julieta being a harpist – again, classical music. I wonder why Montero used simlar references in two of her novels. I would hate to find that they recur in her other books as well.
Having said this, I rather enjoyed ‘The Last Night I Spent With You’. I don’t know much about erotica, but what Montero writes works for me; it had me devouring each page in the hope of finding another juicy morsel. And I’m sad to report that, like ‘Deep Purple’, the book was far too brief – it was over before I even knew it.
One thing for sure, though: it’s not the last night I spend with Montero.
Post scriptum: I kept the English title because it was translated from Spanish to English by Edith Grossman, and I believe that the original flavour has been changed somewhat in the process. Hence I read ‘The Last Night I Spent With You’, not ‘La última noche que pasé contigo’.