Ménage à trois of deceit | Inquirer
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Artist Abroad

Ménage à trois of deceit

/ 10:50 AM October 31, 2022

The Betrayed  Reine Marie Melvin  Europa Editions  464 pp.

The Betrayed,  Reine Marie Melvin,  Europa Editions 464 pp.

NEW YORKEuropa Editions, an offshoot of the Italian publisher edizioni e/o, recently released The Betrayed, a novel by the Paris-based Filipina writer Reine Marie Melvin, in the US, the UK, and Italy. First published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press, the novel won both the National Book Award and the Palanca Grand Prize for the Novel in the Philippines. Melvin’s short stories have appeared in numerous literary reviews and anthologies in the United States, France and the Philippines, many included in her collection, A Normal Life and Other Stories.

Centered on the lives of Lali and Pilar, two beautiful sisters, and of Arturo, the man they both love and who is Lali’s husband, the novel explores the intertwining of not just their privileged lives as members of Manila’s elite, but of the political and social circles that they belong to. Complicating this triangle of sadness, to borrow the title of Ruben Ostlund’s film currently in theaters, is the fact that the sisters and Arturo are on opposite sides of the political divide. Arturo is the godson of the unnamed dictator while Lali and Pilar are the daughters of a prominent opposition figure, assassinated while in exile in San Francisco.

ADVERTISEMENT

With the kaleidoscope of various loyalties, boundaries, and ongoing armed insurgencies serving as backdrop to the labyrinthine pathways the characters need to navigate, Melvin dissects with a sure hand the tangled allegiances that are a hallmark of contemporary Philippine society. The portrait that emerges is a disturbing one, but it will be familiar to Filipinos and indeed to anyone who has lived long enough in the archipelago to know how the personal almost always trumps the political—a, if not the, major reason political parties come and go with predictable rapidity.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Melvin has lived in Paris for decades now, and agreed to an interview via email. 

LHF: When did you start working on the novel, and when did you finish?

RMM: I started writing short stories decades ago, and some characters in those stories ended up in the novel: the two sisters and the man they both love, all called by different names. These characters kept coming back to me, and slowly I realized that these stories and sketches were really part of a much larger work. I had a manuscript of almost 800 pages at one point, and then spent a long time trying to find the heart of the story. It’s not a method I would recommend nor want to try again, but that was the process of this book. I followed the stories and the characters, seeing where they would take me, went on many detours, and abandoned the manuscript for long periods.

LHF: While the novel is character driven, with clearly defined portraits, the characters’ lives are affected by historical events, such as the assassination of a well-known politician, the dictator fleeing the country in the wake of a popular uprising, a female president with a penchant for religiosity, vigilante groups, the disastrous sinking of an inter-island ferry, etc. How much were these a factor in the shaping of the book?

RMM: The political and historical events were essential to the book and to the characters’ lives. I lived in Manila at that time and experienced most of those events firsthand, and I know how much they shaped me and those around me. In the novel, I wanted to examine a country rocked by political, social and natural upheavals, and to throw my characters and their personal concerns into that and see what would happen. The historical events are fictionalized, of course: in the beginning of the novel, a Filipino dissident is assassinated by the dictator’s men in San Francisco. One of his daughters, Pilar, is shattered by her father’s death and resolves to carry on his fight against the dictator, while her sister Lali reacts by marrying the enemy—Arturo, the dictator’s godson, who takes the family back to Manila.

In the Philippines, with its oligarchy and largely feudal society, one can be born into a political role, whether one wants it or not, whether one is aware of it or not. I was interested in how the characters react (or try not to react) to the events around them, how some bury their heads to stay safe (often with disastrous consequences), how others try to fight for justice but can be trapped by conflicting needs: loyalty to the family, for example, may make one betray one’s country, or love for a person may blind someone to their lover’s violence and ruthlessness in the outside world. I saw so much of this when I was living in Manila. Which passion will prevail—security, sexual desire, the need for love, loyalty to one’s family, loyalty to one’s country? It was and is difficult to know how someone will react in an extreme situation.

ADVERTISEMENT

(To Be Continued)

Copyright L.H. Francia 2022

MORE STORIES
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.
TAGS: Filipino writers
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.




We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.