Cleopatra Dismounts

Written by Carmen Boullosa tr. Geoff Hargreaves
Review by James Hawking

Three long sections narrated by Cleopatra are framed by briefer sections told by her scribe Diomedes. In the first narrative, Antony has just stabbed himself, and Cleopatra takes a solipsistic look back on the time when they were “drunkenly happy, with a happiness that made us unique, vigorous, indefatigable enjoyers of life” (p58). She also spins out three pages comparing rotten things to Antony, who is even more rotten. Her principal criticism seems to be that a failure of their love made possible their defeat at the hands of the odious Octavian. Her theory that military victory could be achieved by what they did together in bed seems similar to John and Yoko’s reasoning when they attempted to end war in the same fashion.

The second long section tells the story of how in her youth she ran away to be with the Cilician pirates and other common folk. Now the connection with historical events has become even looser. In the third narrative, she joins forces with the Amazons in a fantasy sequence involving feminist messages and a large supply of unpleasantly displayed male members. The novel then leaves the realm of the historically implausible and enters that of the physically impossible. For example: “Neptune placed his erect penis into the red eye of his lower belly, to seal it” (p.138). Not recommended.