Beauty Salon

(Salón de belleza)

In Bellatin’s best-known novel, a transvestite hairdresser, who is afflicted by a mysterious plague, decides to turns his beloved beauty parlor into a hospice for men (only men) dying of the same disease. Thus, the former salon becomes “the Terminal”, the place where the infected, shunned and cast aside from everywhere else, go to die. He tends to these men while also caring, obsessively, for his dying fish, swimming in the elaborate aquariums that adorn the salon. His obsession is so absolute, that he ends up telling more about the different traits of these fish—their sizes, their colors, their habits—than of the dying men he is taking care of.

The narrator’s fixation on the fish, his insistence in describing them instead of what’s happening with his fading patients, make reading Beauty Salon a particularly enigmatic experience: the reader doesn’t get to go inside the narrator’s psychology; his motivations remain opaque. All the reader gets is an exquisitely bizarre yet compelling narrative, a story that will force him to re-evaluate what he knows, or what he thinks he knows, about both literature and death.

Critics

“Mario Bellatin, who has the fortune or misfortune of being considered Mexican by the Mexicans and Peruvian by the Peruvians [is one of the] writers without whom there’s no understanding of this entelechy that we call new Latin American literature.”

—Roberto Bolaño

 

“Like much of Mr. Bellatin’s work, Beauty Salon is pithy, allegorical, and profoundly disturbing, with a plot that evokes The Plague by Camus or Blindness by José Saramago.” 

—Larry Rohter, the New York Times

 

 “We were a group of children trying to write, and he threw his great book on the table. It changed everything in Mexico.”

—Álvaro Enrigue

 

"People often say, with a lot of truth to it, that all good fiction writing comes from some wound, out of some distance that needs to be breached between a writer and normalcy. In Mario’s sense, the wound is literal and comes with all kinds of psychological nuance and pain, and seems related to sexuality and desire, the desire for a whole body. One of my favorite aspects of him is this sense that he is writing for all the freaks — either literally freaks or privately and metaphorically, that he really touches us.” 

—Francisco Goldman

Rights sold

• Spanish (Mexico, South America and Spain): Penguin Random House.

• Danish: Skjødt Forlag.

• Turkish: Notos kitap.