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“Marlene and Sofia – A Double Love Story,” the latest from Portuguese author Pedro Barrento (author of the whimsical-yet-deep Prince and the Singularity) is an ambitious novel.
Complex and thought-provoking, it can be hard to follow the various plots and diaries and takes a while to understand how this would considered be a love story. Characters introduced in separate storylines are slowly developed and then interact with each other, as the reader discovers their connections – be it by relatives or online interaction. The title characters Marlene and Sofia themselves take a while to appear. Then there is Joaquim, Manual who is father to Sofia, and the fling with Tiago. Some chapters are flashbacks to an earlier time as well. Pasts, from the sordid to the innocent, are revealed.
Right from the beginning, there is a clever metatextual section about how best-selling authors the world over secretly being assigned settings and characters by a mysterious imposing body. It is satirical and amusing, and oddly enough it rather fits with regards to Hollywood-style rules in the Writer’s Guild.
But this is no Hollywood formulaic story. It has more depth than that. There are treatises and quips on freedom, sexuality, family, and youth. Observations on the advantages of a simpler authoritarian past versus a bureaucratic modern democracy. Conversations about Marxism. Cynical takes on how men and women treat each other. Tragic short stories that are harsh critiques on sexist conservative 1940s culture, contrasted with the burgeoning sexuality of other character’s histories. Hints of supernatural forces at play. Digital futurism, and more.
In one early scene, an old man walks a dog and the narration describes the differing sensory perception of each species, and then states “they walked along together, but in two distinct universes.” It’s a nice line, and upon reflection it’s also just might explain more to what this story really means…
Halfway through the story becomes extremely intriguing, and gets into more science-fiction cyberpunk elements. Profound questions on the nature of experience and reality arise. Re: worldfromyoursofa.com (Not a real site, yet.)
And, inevitably, as we all know, the uses of the latest digital technology tend to immediately be co-opted by humanity’s baser sexual instincts. As even the most proper old lady users end up paying an online service to see the world through another’s eyes, it quickly escalates to something explicit. And what of those providing the online services, how do they process what they have done?
There are many surprises as the story goes on, and you’ll have to read for yourself to understand the rest. It’s always charming, always makes you think, this double love story. “Marlene and Sofia” is a unique novel unlike anything else out there.