The Angel’s Game read-along: Act One, Chapter 16

On the day that Martín is finished his and Vidal’s books he finds out that Manuel has died and Cristina is due back in Barcelona. Pep, Vidal’s new driver, comes to tell Martín the sad news. He is sent by Vidal to pick up Cristina, but Martín convinces him that Pep is not the right person to pick up Cristina from the train station. Instead, Martín will pick her up.

Cristina does not want to go to Villa Helius that night and Martín offers to find her a hotel, but she does not want to be alone either. So Martín brings her home to his house.

‘If there’s one thing I have, it’s too many bedrooms.’

At least he isn’t thinking of sleeping with her – or at least he keeps up appearances.

They go home and Martín installs Cristina in one of the bedrooms, leaving her to change and get comfortable. She eventually emerges from the bedroom and joins him in the living room.

She sat in one of the arm chairs and glanced round the room, stopping to look at a pile of paper on the table. She looked at me and I nodded.
‘I finished it a few days ago,’ I said.
‘And yours?’
I thought of both manuscripts as mine, but I just nodded again.

He is right to think of both manuscripts as his, considering he completely rewrote Vidal’s book.

Cristina tells Martín that she missed him.

‘I didn’t want to, but I have.’
‘Me too.’
‘Some days before going to the sanatorium, I’d walk to the station and sit on the platform to wait for the train coming from Barcelona, hoping you might be on it.’
I swallowed hard.
‘I thought you didn’t want to see me,’ I said.
‘That’s what I thought too.’

Cristina talks about her father for a little bit, explaining that he started forgetting more and more.

‘Over time, loneliness gets inside you and doesn’t go away.’

Is that why she started missing Martín? Because she was desperately lonely and he was really the only friend she had? It isn’t expressed here, but I find it interesting that she says she didn’t want Martín, but that she did anyhow because she was so lonely.

Cristina brings out her father’s photo album and they start looking through the photos, Martín a little reluctantly. Then Martín stumbles upon a photo he can’t quite place.

It was a picture of a girl of about eight or nine, walking along a small wooden jetty that stretched out into a sheet of luminous see. She was holding the hand of an adult, a man dressed in a white suit, who was partly cut off by the frame. At the end of the jetty you could make out a small sailing boat and an endless horizon on which the sun was setting. The girl, who was standing with her back to the camera, was Cristina.

Cristina remarks that this is her favourite photo, even though she has no recollection of the picture being taken.

They then see a picture of Cristina when she was fourteen and we get this strange exchange:

‘Look, this is me when I was fourteen.’
‘I know.’
Cristina looked at me sadly.
‘I didn’t realise, did I?’
I shrugged my shoulders.
‘You’ll never be able to forgive me.’
I preferred to go on turning the pages than to look into her eyes.
‘There is nothing to forgive.’
‘Look at me, David.’
I closed the album and did as she asked.
‘It’s a lie,’ she said. ‘I did realise. I realised every day, but I thought I had no right.’
‘Why?’
‘Because our lives don’t belong to us. Not mine, not my father’s, not yours…’
‘Everything belongs to Vidal,’ I said bitterly.

So, a few things here. First of all, it is not made clear what it was that Cristina does not realise. It is one thing not to want to spell everything out for the reader, but it also isn’t good when the reader starts flipping back to the front of the book to see if she has missed something. I was confused as to what it was that Cristina was supposed to have realised and it wasn’t until I read the whole exchange between them that I understood.

Second, I guess that when Martín was saying that Cristina didn’t want to be with Martín it was because of their debt to Vidal, he was right. But I don’t quite understand it. Vidal gave Manuel the job as driver, because Manuel had saved his life. Vidal also had ulterior motives for taking care of Martín, although Martín does not know it at the time. I don’t get why Cristina and Martín see Vidal as some sort of god-like saviour who owns them. Why wouldn’t they be allowed to have their own lives, Vidal has never really said or done anything to indicate that he wants them to obey his every demand, although I concede that we don’t know what goes on between Cristina and Vidal. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I don’t buy into the whole ‘we can’t be together because Vidal has been good to us in our lives’. It feels a bit too contrived a reason to keep them apart.

But that night, Cristina decides she wants to sleep with Martín and so they have sex and the next morning Cristina is gone. Before they have sex, Martín comments that he knows he is going to lose Cristina as soon as the night is over, but he still goes ahead and has sex with her. Even though she is clearly vulnerable and wracked with grief, Martín only thinks of what he wants. The explanation we are offered is that Cristina wanted him all along, but was bound by her duty to Vidal, but that is not what we have seen so far. Cristina has never shown any real interest in Martín, let alone love, so this feels more like an explanation thrown in by the author to create some tension.

I guess I just don’t buy Cristina and Martín as star-crossed lovers (can you tell?).

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