New novelist, M.K. Bates of London, after spending his professional life as an accountant, makes his debut with this ambitious plot about a young Brazilian woman who grows up in a "favela," a term drawn from "fava beans," which denotes a hillside community outside of Rio de Janeiro. There are an estimated 750 favelas outside Rio today.
Pilar possesses psychic powers passed on to her from her grandmother. Worldly at a young age because of the harsh settings of the favela with its crime and drug culture, Pilar finds herself in England working as an escort where it is her good fortune to meet the main male character, Shaun, rebounding from a brief relationship with a German academician, Christiana, who has a secret past working in the porn industry.
Shaun, an entrepreneur, through a lucrative business deal, sells his company and is financially set for life at a relatively young age. Lonely, somewhat bored, and coming off his relationship in Hamburg with Christiana, decides to seek out the companionship of an escort from the agency for whom Pilar is their top-rated call girl. Pilar enters the picture, and Christiana will return later in one of the major plot twists that locks in the reader until it is resolved in the climax.
The story moves between Brazil, Germany, and London, with rapid pace, marking the key points of the plot path. Intrigue, sex, violence, and cultural navigation are key themes in Bates' novel. Readers will enjoy a balance of these themes throughout the reading of this 266-page book.
At times, The Little Girl of the Favela may put in the reader's mind the style of Hemingway with its brevity in descriptive passages. The characters are developed primarily through dialogue. Reader preferences will determine whether the dialogue carries the burden well enough. Those who like deeper narrative texturing of characters and plot may be disappointed.
Some of the more enjoyable passages in the book are those which allude to the psychic powers of Pilar. There is a level of mystique in her character that intensifies the plot at points, often yielding the novel's most passionate moments. Margaret Craven's I Heard the Owl Call My Name came to mind frequently during my reading because of its mystical quality.
An ambitious plot that succeeds in achieving the reader's interest, though sometimes lacking in depth, moves quickly, ends well, and begs for a sequel.
Article first appeared as Book Review: The Little Girl of the Favelaby M.K. Bates on Blogcritcs.