For such a thick book, The Last Masquerade doesnít offer much of a plot. Two young lovers determine to meet and interview the reclusive actress of their dreams in 1920s Havana. Thatís all. There are a few minor subplots, but nothing that takes effect until the tension of the main plot has utterly unwound. It is not a thickly plotted book.
But The Last Masquerade is full to bursting, not with a neat bundle of plot, but with BogotŠ, and Havana, and a lingering scent of Egypt. It carries the rocking motion of a train ride in a time when airplanes were suspicious gadgets, and washes against barnacle encrusted dock leading onto brightly painted streets with a smell of summer sun that comes drifting off the page. The plot fades to unimportance; the writing, from the taste of well-made coffee to the smell of tropical plants, begs to be carried to bed and read between satin sheets.
The main characters would be alienating villains in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Lucho Belalcazar Reyes and his lover Wenceslao Hoyos are dissolute children of privilege, obsessed with nothing but their own pleasure. They use others for sex, money and entertainment without the least sense of return social obligation. Yet in speaking through Lucho, Rodriguez manages to force some sympathy out of the characters and their entire self-absorbed layer of society. It becomes obvious early on that the couple truly do love each other, without question, a nice touch when so much fiction thinks drama comes only from romantic disgust. Here, the only problem is the need for the loving couple to maintain appearances for the sake of their family. Even in the most dire situations, the couple behaves with assurance that money and family will make all problems disappear, and so it does. In the face of such blissful invulnerability, itís hard to feel any tension even in the potentially murderous subplot of Luchoís lost uncle, or the sudden violence of workerís rally. These things seem distant, almost a fiction themselves, in the luscious world of two wealthy lovebirds.
Once all the characters are on stage, the last threads of tension are quickly relaxed, resolutions are loudly broadcast, and even the major subplot leans itself up without too much ado. But Rodriguez manages to cast his glamour just long enough to finish the tale properly, before tying all ends up in a neat little epilogue that casually shatters the atmosphere of ease and invulnerability that covers the book. The blow that killed the 1920s was an especially harsh one throughout the world, and Rodriguez slides in a soft reminder of the effects that blow would send through history.
That epilogue turns The Last Masquerade into a brutal book, a heartbreaking reminder of glories spent too soon. But itís also a fantastic vacation through unforgettable lost cities, a gilt-edged invitation to the life of the other half, for as long as the prose can flow. Itís a party not be missed.