Image: Caminito, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“Kiss of the Spider Woman (Spanish: El beso de la mujer araña) is a 1976 novel by Argentine writer Manuel Puig. It depicts the daily conversations between two cellmates in an Argentine prison, Molina and Valentín, and the intimate bond they form in the process. It is generally considered Puig’s most successful work. Puig adapted the novel into a stage play in 1983, with an English translation by Allan Baker. It was also made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1985 and a Broadway musical in 1993.
The novel’s form is unusual in that there is no traditional narrative voice, one of the primary features of fiction. It is written in large part as dialogue, without any indication of who is speaking, except for a dash (-) to show a change of speaker. There are also significant portions of stream-of-consciousness writing. What is not written as dialogue or stream-of-consciousness is written as meta-fictional government documentation. The conversations between the characters, when not focused on the moment at hand, are recountings of *films that Molina has seen, which act as a form of escape from their environment. Thus there are a main plot, several subplots, and five additional stories that comprise the novel.
Puig started Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1974 starting with Molina (a transgender woman), who was an experiment in imagining a romantic female. From there the rest of the notes sprouted into the novel. At first the only country that would publish the novel was Spain. Upon publication it was included on a list of novels that could not be consumed by the population of Buenos Aires, along with novels such as Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa. Puig feared the publication of the novel would affect his family negatively. Despite this it was entered in the Frankfurt Book Fair. It remained banned until 1983 when the Raúl Alfonsín government took control. The English translation of the book was started even before its official publication in Spanish in 1976. Some of the translation proved problematic for Puig including Molina’s speech which he could not get to portray the proper sentimental aspects of the voice. The English translation appeared in 1979. The French translation also proved problematic as the publisher edited out some scenes for their explicit nature. In 1981, Kiss of the Spider Woman won the best Latin American novel of the year from Istituto Italo Latino Americano in Italy.
The author includes a long series of footnotes on the psychoanalytic theory of homosexuality. The footnotes act largely as a representation of Puig’s political intention in writing the novel: to present an objective view of homosexuality.
“The title comes from a part in the book where Molina asks Valentin for a kiss before he is paroled. Valentin (Raul Julia) asks Luis Molina (William Hurt) whether he’s afraid that he’ll turn into a panther woman (as in *the first film Molina tells Valentin, where the panther woman kills when she is kissed). Valentin says he is not the panther woman but the spider woman, hence Kiss of the Spider Woman.”