‘From The Murders in the Rue Morgue of 1841 through to Death and the Compass in 1942, the wheel had come full circle. With this short story, Borges perfects the genre. Lönnrot Is a detective who reads detective stories. A fool who dies for having taken literature for reality. He’s the Don Quichotte of police stories.’***
This quote should sum up this book which begins in Caracas with the three main characters, Mathias Rye, A struggling writer, struggling with drugs, and with themes, for which he meets regularly with Miguel Ardiles a psychiatrist who counts killers and psychopaths amongst his patients hoping to get insight for his writing. This book was read for the Spanish lit month 2016.
-So tell me, what’s the worst book to have one the ‘prix du Nacional’…
-…The title of the one I’m thinking of is unpronounceable. I can never remember it but it’s by Pedro Álamo. It was in 1982 and it was the most controversial edition in the history of the prize. It’s completely incomprehensible from start to finish. Me, I’d always taken it for the work of a mad man, but there were a few critics that saw it as a chef-d’oeuvre. I think that at last I’m going to be able to check my hypothesis.
-You’re going to help me. Pedro Álamo is one of my students at the writing workshop.
-What do I have to do with it?
-We’ve almost become friends. I gave him the number of your private practice. Can you squeeze him in on Monday? Álamo suffers from panic attacks’***
Pedro Álamo talks about the symmetry of his life, his past with his now dead wife Margarita and that to come with his girl friend Margarita, he also talks of palindromes such sa his book Tnevarapel, le paravent and also of Yo sonoro no soy.
There is a linguistic/semiotic current running through this book and taking up a good half of it, linking linguistic theorists to Pedro Álamo via the Venezuelan poet Lancini. This whole current of the book was in far too much detail and explanation for a novel, My take away here is that Dario Lancini is famous in Venezuela for his book of palindromes, Oir a Dario, which brought together thirty of his palindromes, ranging from one sentence to a 750-word text based on Ubu Roi the largest palindrome ever written and that he lived in political exile for many years.
So if you are a linguistic theorist, this is the crime story for you. Otherwise like myself you may find this a particularly hard slog for one half of the book.
The rest of the book, the crime mystery part centres around Montesinos, and the disappearance and deaths of a large number of women, this extract from a chapter early on taken from a blog, identifying Montesinos, by one of his supposed victims, Rosalinda, and named Ana and Mie is a deep dive into eating disorders
-Hi!!! My little princesses!!! That was the worst birthday I’ve had since I was born. I’m a fat cow, nobody likes me. Ana and Mie are my only friends, the only ones that help me live, to attain my dreams.***
Ana et Mie are short hand for Anorexia and bulimia. The crime mystery is not easy to follow but some crimes continue after Montesinos is arrested and Álamo’s girl friend, Margarita, is one of the victims. As Calderón says:
-sometimes I write with the ease and pleasure that only reading can offer, and at other times I read with the difficulty, the uncertainty and the fragility characteristic of all true writing.***
As a reader this book placed me clearly in the second category, I feel a second reading would help but do not have the courage to undertake such an adventure.
Ps the photo is of Dario Lancini and his wife Antonieta Madrid
First Published in Spanish (Venezuela) as “The Night” by Alfaguara in 2016
Translated into French by Robert Amutio as ‘The Night’ and published by Gallimard in 2016
*** my translation