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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 19 April 2007
Puig's masterpiece is the story of trust and betrayal that takes place in an Argentinean prison in the 1970s. The two main characters are Molina, imprisoned for homosexuality, and Valentin, a political revolutionary. To help pass time, Molina recounts the stories and memories of his favourite movies. The first of these is the classic noir 'Cat People', and further movies concerning the Resistance in Nazi-occupied France, Zombies and others. This vehicle gives Puig an opportunity to tell stories within stories. Much of the book is written as an exchange of dialogue, more like a piece of drama than a novel, and also includes footnotes that discuss the nature of homosexuality as a psychological condition.

This Freudian environment, with the addition of Puig's astonishing mixture of forms, gives the book its backdrop. Over this background Puig tells us a story of how Molina and Valentin are drawn together by circumstance and then forced apart by fate. In terms of both form and content Kiss of the Spider Woman is a breathtaking and powerful work that is destined to become a modern classic.

Translation by Thomas Colchie
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on 3 July 2008
This was Puig's fourth and best-known novel. It was published in 1976 and translated into English three years later.

Much of the book consisted of dialogue. It, and the shifting from the daily routine of the two main characters in prison to the descriptions of the films, was usually entertaining and kept my interest. The author contrasted the two personalities and their ways of thinking -- political and sensual, engaged and escapist, living for the future and living for the present, "masculine" and "feminine." He showed the two men opposed at first, but moving to accommodate each other as the book progressed. For me, this was shown especially well at the end.

The range of films described was also interesting. Obviously, one can relate the characters in the films -- with their double lives, terrible secrets, covert missions, the search for love and the need to believe in it, love overcoming betrayal and hardship -- to the two in prison.

The amount of space in the book given to films, and later on to the popular songs in the last film, was part of Puig's usual concern, how people use those forms to escape from reality but also elevate their lives, how their understanding of themselves is guided by the forms, with their "tremendous truths."

Toward the book's end, the characters either began speaking the language of the other or acting something like the other. The author also seemed to suggest that an ideal relationship, whatever the members' gender, was one where people kept no secrets from each other. All these things were enjoyable.

A few lengthy interior monologues in the novel weren't understood, and the over-long footnotes on Freud, Reich, Marcuse, Brown and others, or the description of wartime Berlin, often seemed dated and over the top. Much in them concerned the theorists' calls for a new morality and revision of the idea of human nature. Several set up the idea of "perversions" as threats to the "basic repressive principles fundamental to the organization of capitalism." And discussed the need for men to liberate the women locked in the dungeons of their psyche and restructure their views of sexual normality. These footnotes suggested that one of the men, Molina, might be a revolutionary element in his own way.
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on 15 August 2006
"Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1976) is a novel written by Manuel Puig (1932-1990), an Argentinian playwright, novelist and screenwriter. Its subject is controversial, as it delves upon themes such as sexual identity, violence and torture. All the same, I think reading it is worthwhile, as it is one of those books that tell a story that comes alive to the reader...

In case you haven't heard about "Kiss of the Spider Woman", I will tell you a little about its plot. The main characters are Valentin and Molina, two men that share a prison cell, during the Argentinian dictatorship of the late 1970's. Molina is a sensitive soul that happens to be an homosexual, and Valentin a revolutionary that despises the fact that Molina has no political ideas (and is confused by the notion that someone can choose to be gay). Due to the fact that both share the same cell, Valentin and Molina spend some time talking to each other about their ideas and feelings, something they wouldn't have done in any other circumstance. Despite their differences, an unlikely friendship will begin between them, a friendship that may well turn into something more. However, there is more than one twist that will surprise you in this story, even though I won't tell you about that in order not to spoil the surprise.

On the whole, this is an engaging book that is likely to interest the reader, but that is not adequate for children, and that won't appeal to those that don't want to read a book that deals with homosexuality. I liked the way in which Puig told Valentin and Molina's story, and that is the reason why I give it 3.5 stars...

Belen Alcat
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on 26 October 2007
As other reviewers have stated, this book is set in a prison cell in Argentina . The 2 characters are an unlikely pair, Molina an effeminate homosexual and Valentin a member of a guerrilla organistion. It is a tale of their growing relationship, that the enforcement of the prison cell has foisted upon them.

It is an easy book to read,and while it deals with complex issues, I never felt overwhelmed by them.

From Molina's first story about the Panther woman, who is afraid to kiss her husband, in case she murders him, the theme of love, fear and betrayel are set.

Puig has written a brilliant book, that deserves all the acclaim it has gotten. It will leave you thinking, not only about who we love, but also why we love, and I mean to include ideologies as well as people.

The sub text of Freudian's take on homosexuality is interesting too.

I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a good book, but it does have an adult theme, so be aware of that.
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on 18 December 2006
Thoroughly post-modern in approach and incredibly innovative, I read this cover to cover in one sitting. Excellent plot development and deliberately disconcerting polyphonic structure with genuinely surprising twists in the tale. Don't be put off by the original (and 'difficult') structure - this book is well worth perservering with.

Wonderful stuff!
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on 13 November 2016
I found the footnotes on Freud, Reich, Marcuse, Brown et al intensely annoying – in which order do you read them and the main text?
They tend to appear at moments of misunderstanding between Molina and Valentín.
They deal with "perversions" as threats to the "basic repressive principles fundamental to the organization of capitalism." They point to the need for men to liberate women locked in the dungeons of their psyche and restructure their views of sexual normality. Molina, might be a revolutionary element in his own way.

It’s more like a piece of drama than a novel – then again, the author was a playwright.
The novel is an indictment of a disengaged aesthetic perspective in the context of a world where people have to take sides. Valentín, the Marxist protagonist, has risked his life and willingly endured torture for a political cause, and his example helps transform his cellmate into a citizen, someone who will enter the world. Likewise, Molina's love of aesthetics and cultural life teaches Valentín that escapism can have a powerfully utopian purpose in life: escapism can be just as subversive and meaningful as overt political activity.
Other major themes include political psychology, film, love, and communism
The warden is how Manuel Puig defines masculinity because he is the only character in the book that truly holds power; power not only over the prison system but specifically on Molina because we can see how he is the one to tell Molina to “stop your trembling” and to “weigh your words”. That the warden is the opposite of Valentin’s definition of a man shows Valentin’s aversion toward the current power system in his country.

According to Matthew Teorey in Spinning a Bigendered Identity in Silko’s Ceremony and Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, the Spider Woman in Native American tradition is the ‘creator of the universe and an important source of cultural wisdom and social values’. However, in Western Culture, Spider Woman was named Arachne, who was a ‘master weaver of Greek mythology … her story [was] a morality tale’. The myth of Arachne is where she challenges the gods to a weaving competition, she loses and as a result of losing she is turned into a spider. In Kiss of the Spider Woman, Molina is the spinner/weaver of webs, tales and suspense as he retells the films and lies as he ‘in league’ with the warden of the prison.

Molina has a female name as he believes himself to be a woman, so when he talks about the beautiful women in the films he is in awe and jealous as he aspires to be like them. Reading Teorey’s Spinning a Bigendered Identity, he writes what each character has and what the other needs to change within them and links them with the other character, like a balancing act of the character’s characteristics: Valetin finds in himself embraced and empowered by a friendship that reintegrates the two halves of his selfhood: reason and emotion/sensuality. Molina…[is in] two halves: he has adopted a stereotypically submissive and domestic feminine identity and needs some of Valentin’s masculine rebelliousness and self-respect to be whole.

Sections in italics pp.1265f repeat ‘a fellow’, ,a mother’, a girl’ and ‘ a classmate’.

I had to look up ‘percale’ = a closely woven plain-weave fabric often used for bed covers
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on 21 May 2015
Wonderful book. Easy to read, it's written primarily as a dialogue between two characters, which you will quickly get the hang of. Don't worry about trying to puzzle out the meaning all at once - let the book unfold. The stories within stories talk to each other at different levels. Yes, it's postmodern, but it's not pretentious. It's just the opposite. Heartfelt and unique, easy to read (it's mostly in conversational style), only 2 characters to worry about, and beautifully elaborating on ethics and humanity. Most of all, it's a great story. Read it!
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on 17 April 2013
I chose to read this book because I was going to Argentina for a holiday. The book has an Argentinian author and it concerns the harsh political regime in that country, not so long ago.
The style is wonderful, easy to read, amusing and unique and yet, at the same time, it describes imprisonment and torture. You have to read it, to feel the full impact of Puig's raw and 'punchy' style. You'll be thinking about it for a long time after you finish!
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on 17 May 2014
A book for our times, when repression, torture, inhumanity and prejudice remain the footfalls of our inner lives and our political discourse. Lift your head, read this book and take time to think.
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on 2 September 2016
A must read if you are in Argentina ... touching, unusual and an excellent read. Recommended.
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