Review - Lake of Urine: A Love Story, by Guillermo Stitch

Stitch's novel is a mind-boggling pastiche of literary tropes and analogies that takes the absurdist satire to its logical extreme.

Literature Review


Guillermo Stitch_Lake of Urine
Lake of Urine: A Love Story,  written by Guillermo Stitch. Available via Bookshop.


Guillermo Stitch's Lake of Urine: A Love Story  is a mind-boggling pastiche of literary tropes and analogies that take the absurdist satire to its logical extreme, replete with bizarre twists and turns on every page. 


Though set in a fictionalised place in Spain, it manages to resonate with readers despite all the outlandishness that is pervasively prevalent in the plot. The pandemonium that unfolds in the novel simultaneously delights and disturbs because every character is an eccentric blend of caricature and nuance and hardly anyone in the narrative swears by moderation, be it the trajectory of their thought processes or their behavioural logic. 


Shuttling back and forth in time, the novel takes readers on a dizzying journey chronicling the outrageous attitudes of the frighteningly freakish yet oddly familiar Wakeling Family of the Tiny Village. The narrative pits Emma Wakeling's matriarchal household (which is anything but a feminist utopia) consisting of her two daughters Urine and Noranbole, from different husbands, against her father, Pastor Charles Wakeling's patriarchal and pseudo-puritanical style of parenting. 


Emma grew up under the hypercritical gaze of her father who rendered her mother a persona non-grata, and left no stone unturned in indoctrinating Emma into believing in the innate sinfulness of all women. Funnily, the first word that she learnt to say was "harlot" and ironically, the reasons for choosing her eight husbands were not romantic or what one normatively looks for in a potential partner. While reminiscing about her sixth husband, Emma remarks, "he'd been a very, very bad boy from the beginning. And I don't know why I proposed to him; I think he'd been waiting for me to do it forever, which was as long as we'd known each other."


Being herself a product of questionable parenting practices and still possibly reeling under their hangover, Emma hires Willem Seiler, a vain scientist, to act as a chaperone for her own daughters, who she thought were attracting way too many suitors. Thereby unleashing absolute anarchy in the novel's universe.


To compensate for always being relegated to the periphery and overshadowed by too much mollycoddling done to Urine, Noranbole takes the bull by its horns when an opportunity comes her way to escape with her lover, Bernard, to the Big City and join a Corporate Conglomerate. Meanwhile, Urine goes missing and is believed to have drowned in a lake because of Seiler's eccentric lake-measuring mission gone wrong. She resurfaces in the end and decides to join Noranbole in the Big City.  


Consequently, in the topsy turvydom that follows and as the narrative reaches its climactic moment, the conventional assumptions about socio-cultural and politico-economic institutions ranging from family dynamics, parenting strategies, marital unions, religion, political power, the rural versus urban divide (as foregrounded in the structural inequalities in Tiny Village and Big City), and economic liberalization, undergo a grotesque parody. The odd blend of absent-mindedness and ironic self-awareness of the characters helps sustain this brilliant tragicomedy with its dry wit and humour. 


The novel ostensibly claims to be an idiosyncratic love story where the characters traverse the labyrinthine topographies that have surfaced in the wake of their socio-reality being saturated with issues that sometimes seem to have Beckettian depth. This is perfectly illustrated when the omniscient narrative voice remarks in a very contemplative tone "Everything heaves with its own history, the land and the people like an old couple who no longer need to speak to each other because all has been said; to give voice to it would only add a tinny echo."


But the narrative's treatment of the social conundrums that spring up in the novel is also reminiscent of the light-heartedness and sharp-wittedness that one has come to associate with Pope's satire as is evident by the zealous commentary during the hilariously themed championship, 'Palpon World Meat Patty Flip Finals' in which Bernard participates: "But who will rise from the victor's pit? Who will ascend to the top of the hydraulic winner's podium and look down on us with disdain as we weep? Nobody knows. Yet. But who will it be?" 


Just when one thinks that the deconstructionist logic of the plotline is getting a bit too bleak, Stitch throws up a surprise in his characteristic humorous style, leaving the readers in splits. The sub-textual theme in the novel dealing with mother-daughter relationships comically inverts the conventional trope for a female bildungsroman, which generally implies a mandatory separation from the mother, by replacing it with an acknowledgement that the mother-daughter bond might facilitate rather than obstruct the daughter’s journey towards autonomous selfhood.


This is reflected in the absurd mother-daughter reunions and female friendships that populate the universe of the novel and is bizarrely delineated when Emma tells Noranbole that guilt about the pending chores have brought her back from the Big City and Noranbole grudgingly acknowledges that she has come back for her mother and they have a little moment — though it is bereft of any sentimental outpourings that one would stereotypically expect from a heart to heart talk between a mother and her daughter.    


While the novel is extremely multi-layered and foregrounds a multiplicity of issues cutting across spatial and temporal zones, these episodes are cleverly juxtaposed and consistently undercut and undermine each other lest the narrative should start taking itself too seriously, become preachy and get trapped or lost in its own grandeur. 


Stitch never sounds pretentious or needlessly descriptive, despite taking readers on a rollercoaster ride through a world that glorifies the trivial and downplays the serious — where the flippancy of fairytale tropes meet modernist angst in search of stable coordinates, uncannily akin to the world we live in, characterised by contradictory rhythms and defied expectations, one day at a time. 



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Literature, Fiction, Review, Spain, Family, Feminism