The Ally by Iván Repila (Translated from Spanish by Mara Faye Lethem) - review by Laurel Berger

Laurel Berger

His Life as a Feminist

The Ally


Other Press 259pp £16.99

It takes balls to write a satirical novel about an aspiring male feminist whose solution to the problems of misogyny, sexual violence and gender inequality is to found a terrorist group called Phallic State. Feminist theory and comedy make strange bedfellows, but the Spanish writer Iván Repila, the author of three previous novels (including the brutal, fable-like The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse, which was published in English in 2015), does his manful best to unite the two.

The book is set in an unnamed Spanish city about which we are told virtually nothing; nevertheless, the presence of a two-hundred-acre 17th-century park and a head of state suggests it is a version of Madrid. When we first encounter the nameless 35-year-old protagonist, ‘the most feminist guy you will ever meet’, he and his followers are lobbing eggs, representations of ‘male virility, our balls, our huevos’, at naked women protesting in front of city hall. Every now and then, the egg-throwers pause to ogle the women. The effect on the reader is disorientating, but the scene is also extremely funny. The narrative proper begins with a flashback to a lecture given months earlier by the distinguished woman of letters Siri Hustvedt (‘Paul Auster’s wife’), at which the narrator fetches up in a condition of existential disarray. Why, he wonders, did the epithet ‘feminist’ strike him as an attack on his virility?

His girlfriend, Najwa, undertakes to sensitise and reform him, asking ‘simple questions in order to explain complex problems’. Before long, he’s detecting ‘male microaggressions everywhere’, explaining (or mansplaining) the ideas of Kate Millett and Rebecca Solnit to all and sundry, and hectoring ‘a ton of extremely centrist male

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