"I could not bear it any more. She sensed it, saw my eyes wet with tears, and only then must have discovered I was no longer the man I had been, and I endured her glance with a courage I never thought I had. The truth is I'm getting old, I said. We already are old, she said with a sigh. What happens is that you don't feel it on the inside, but from the outside everybody can see it." Page 98
A cursory glance at this short novel could be very dangerous and highly misleading. The title and the first few pages would indicate an immature recollection of an old man's colossal sexual exploits. For a ninety year old man who was twice awarded 'client of the year' in the red light district and kept a log of all the women he had sex with up until he was fifty--and recorded an epochal five-hundred fourteen--you'd think, 'Well hey, this will be interesting if not absurd…' I was blown away by this novel for reasons you wouldn't believe from what I've said thus far.
At the heart of this book are two themes the author has dealt with in many of his other works: getting older, and what it means to be in love. The narrator is ninety, hideously ugly, has never once allowed himself to be in love, and has paid--monetarily paid--for everyone of his sexual encounters. He is terrified of commitment (and arguably a spineless sap in general) and seeks fleeting relationships that are finite and business like in nature.
We see his age through his interaction with other people: an editor at the newspaper where he works that is young in good health and in possession of good looks; how people treat him as an old man after making a prominent mistake in public; how 'Delgadina' sees him (rather how he envisions her seeing him) as time goes on and he falls in love with her, a fragile fourteen year old girl. Readers and the narrator learn the most about him as he falls in love for the first time at ninety and behaves with the angsty eye-rolling behavior of an adolescent. Being in love has taught him more about himself than ninety years of life experience.
"When the storm had passed I still had the feeling I was not alone in the house. My only explanation is that just as a real events are forgotten, some that never were can be in our memories as if they had happened. For if I evoked the emergency of the rainstorm, I did not see myself alone in the house but always accompanied by Delgadina." Page 59
The most unexpected pleasure in this novel was the title and how it factored into the narrative's presentation. A 'horse-faced' man of ninety years old with a jaw-dropping laundry list of sexual exploits is absurd in itself, but that we only learn of him from the women--some of whom our narrator is out of line to call a whore--that he had relationships with, not merely sexual encounters but relationships, is amazing. The three perfect women that he was presented a chance of marrying but didn't and the one who procures Delgadina, who he may yet chain himself to, present the narrator in the best of light: ugly, flawed, and as far from a hero as possible yet virtuous (in his own corrupt way) to a fault that he has lived, or perhaps suffered, for ninety years.
One could argue it lacks the objectivity that third person narration could offer, and I'd be the first to agree. I'd love nothing more than to get inside Delgadina's head, but the intimacy and awareness that we gain with the narrator isn't worth giving up and to paraphrase the narrator, it was better when Delgadina was asleep and didn't talk… There is a very coarse sentimentality here, tempered by the narrator's age and experience and the fact that readers have a difficult time being moved to sympathy of feeling on his behalf. It's a fully realized telling of a story the author hinted at in Strange Pilgrims 'Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane.' I challenge you to find a better book at one-hundred and fifteen pages, or perhaps if you're feeling adventurous, even more pages than one-hundred fifteen.