01 July 2010


Character Connection 9

Learn about Lisbeth Salander and other cool characters
in this week's Character Connection link up!

My first contest/giveaway might have closed yesterday, but I won't be announcing the winner until Sunday, which means that everyone can have a few more days to drool over books they might never have--at least, not for free. (I'm such a horrible person, I know. But since my beloved blog's first birthday has been marked by internet failure in my area, forcing me to write this post in an internet cafe, I'm not even going to try to be nice.)

So here is a profile of one of the characters in the last novel I am offering to the winner . . .

Pepe Monson
The Woman Who Had Two Navels
by Nick Joaquin

When she told him she had two navels, he believed her at once; she seemed so urgently, so desperately serious--and besides, what would be the point in telling a lie like that, he asked himself, while she asked him if he could help her, if he could arrange "something surgical," an operation.

"But I'm only a horse doctor," he apologised; to which she retorted that, well, if he could fix up horses . . . And she cried that it was urgent: her whole life depended on it.

He enquired how old she was, and noting--while she replied that she was thirty--how her eyes turned cagey for the first time since she entered the room, he wondered, putting on his spectacles, if she might be knocking off a few years, but could not tell . . .

Pepe Monson might not be the moral compass of this novel, but he is, as the opening paragraphs suggest, its "spectacles." And he does get to examine all the evidence brought before him, though he is less clinical about it than his profession might make him seem. It is he to whom Connie Escobar first tells the outrageous story about having two navels, and he to whom she writes her last shocking letter--and right before the cliffhanger close of one chapter, he whom she trusts to examine her naked body and tell her, once and for all, how many navels she has.

If the story didn't demand an omniscient narrator, Pepe could have told the whole thing in first person and the reader would still believe every mad detail. His brother may be the (token) priest, but Pepe hears more than his layman's share of candid confessions (and colourful lies). After Connie tells her tale, he gets to hear her mother's side of things--and then his friend Paco spills the sordid story of the way both women jerked him around like a puppet they were taking turns with--and then Connie's husband begs him to save their marriage by giving Connie a message from him. And thus Pepe guesses--correctly--that the key to solving everyone's troubles is helping Connie find her way . . . which is why he refers her to his brother. Who better to set lost souls on the right path than a real priest?

His own sense of obligation to total strangers drives his long-time girlfriend crazy. She has already, for the sake of his father, who dreams grandly of seeing his son married in their ancestral home in Binondo, agreed to postpone their wedding indefinitely. And now along comes a glamorous, gorgeous Filipina in pearls and furs whom her fiance just has to help. But she should know that someone like him would have a more constant heart than she fears.

It feels odd to be "telling" so much about Pepe here when Joaquin himself commits to nothing but "showing." As an author, he is generous with the deepest, darkest secrets of his characters' pasts, but stingy with his analyses of their motivations in the present. And so although many things would be fairly obvious if we knew the characters in real life, they are more difficult to pin down when their own lives unfold on these pages, independently of our own.

Image Source: The Woman Who Had Two Navels by Nick Joaquin


Daria Hlazatova said...

always such interesting coices of books. i enjoy reading your posts a lot, even if i can't find a book and read it, you provide quite an insight! :)

Sullivan McPig said...

Congrats on the blogoversary and egh for failing internet connections!

This book is starting to sound more interesting which each post you make about it.

IntrovertedJen said...

Happy Blogoversary! The spectacles, huh? I like the idea. A character who feels an obligation to everyone he meets would be a bit refreshing. I just finished a light-hearted book that touched on the idea of how much responsibility we feel for each other and how we (in the US at least) might be slowly losing that.

Enbrethiliel said...


@ Daria: Thanks, Daria! Indeed, what I like about Jen's meme is that it challenges participants not just to describe beloved characters but to analyse why they're so wonderful.

@ Sully: It's still not back on, but thank you for your good wishes. According to the person I called, it should be on by tonight. I certainly hope so!

There will be one more post on The Woman Who Had Two Navels this Saturday, so look out! ;-)

@ Jen: Thanks, Jen! Yes, Pepe is the one in charge of examining the evidence he is given--and what's really great about him is that although he doesn't get all the evidence, he still reaches the right conclusion. =)

mrsdarwin said...

Ah, fine, go and make me all conflicted. I was sure that Po-on was the most interesting of the books you've highlighted, and now I'm really intrigued by this one as well. Pepe and Connie just sound fascinating. I wonder if our library carries this? I should do some reconnaissance and find out how many Filipino authors are shelved in a Texas library.

Happy blogoversary, and many happy returns of the day!

Enbrethiliel said...


Oh, dear. I never mean to make people conflicted. (Would you believe I just typed that with a straight face?)

Would you like a longer excerpt from Po-on to help you make up your mind? It's Friday night, I'm dateless (again), and I could encode Jose's prose for hours . . .

belinda said...

(Your punk Catholic comment was so funny:)

Enbrethiliel said...


(Well, it was dead serious, too--which I suppose is the real source of the hilarity! Thanks for visiting, Belinda. It's nice to see you.)

mrsdarwin said...

I would love to read more of Po-on. I searched our online library catalog, but I didn't see it included, nor did we have any Nick Joaquin. Too bad...