Lack of intimacy = death?
As I was reading this, the thing that kept crossing my mind was that the main character had a serious fear and avoidance of intimacy. Without intimacy in a relationship, what is there? The main character of the book is a obsessed with death, yet it seems that he never truly lived.
The main character's avoidance of of intimacy could be obviously seen by the fact that after 90 years, he had never had a mutual or loving relationship with a woman. He either had to pay for women or take them by force. Also, the fact that he fell in love with a 14 y/o that he never spoke to and knew nothing about except that she sewed buttons in a factory is consistent with this observation. She also had her back turned to him whenever they were together and the thing he knew most intimately about her were her feet. He stated that he preferred her asleep and there were several times that he mentions how he didn't want to know about her real/personal life. Any time he came close to finding out anything real about her, like when he visited the button factory or went to the hospital to see if it was her that was in that bike accident, he became more tormented and less attracted to her.
I agree with all of you that he was a very annoying character esp because of his sexist attitude toward women, although I developed sympathy for him when I found out towards the end of the book that he had been sexually assaulted as a young boy. He didn't mention his parents much, except when recalling the death of his mother. His mother was portrayed as overly materialistic to the point that she was buying expensive things behind her husband's back and throughout the course of the book he was continously selling those possessions in order to hold onto what he thought was true love for Delgadina. He briefly mentioned his father in conjunction with the assualt that took place while his father involved in an "interminable" meeting behind closed doors - a metaphor that perhaps signifies his father's lack of availability for him when he may have needed him most as a formidable adolescent.
The thing with the cat that struck me was that he was always referring back to the "manual" which was a humorous indication of his lack of trust in his ability to be intuitive or to feel or to care for another living being - another area where he avoided intimacy even in the raising of an animal.
Something else that struck me that Rosa Cabarcas said at the end of the book that suggests that this book about a fear of intimacy was when she says wisely: "Don't let yourself die without the wonder of fucking with love." Since the book is left somewhat open-ended and he survives past his 90th birthday, I guess we will never know if he will ever experience the joy of being truly intimate and open with someone else. His agreement with Rosa Carbacas to will everything to Delgadina indicates that he unfortunately missed that opportunity and that he will live in an illusory world until the very end.