Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolaño

Another Roberto Bolaño novel, an early one, and another little gem to add to the Chilean writer's posthumous canon.
The themes, characters and locations will be familiar to those who have read his more mature works and in many ways you can see him rehearsing some of the narrative techniques he would later develop - particularly in The Savage Detectives.
Three characters, in alternating chapters, come at the same story from different angles, drifting in and out of each other's narratives, reflecting on the same incidents and secondary characters from alternative perspectives.
It is set in Catalunya in the town of Z which lies close to the coast and is busy in the summer months with an influx of tourists.
A senior official siphons of local council funds to build a skating rink in an abandoned mansion for a young champion skater he has become besotted with.
A Mexican businessman who has made good in Spain, who owns shops, hotels and a campsite and who becomes the skater's lover.
And then the Bolañoesque outsider, an illegal immigrant, working as a night watchman at the campsite, trying to stay below the radar of officialdom.
Bolaño maintains a tension throughout in the build-up to a murder, the body found on the secret rink.
He reports from there underbelly of society where it intersects with the comfortable 'respectable' world and occasionally breaks through like an irksome scab.
And as with other novels Bolaño often hints a more mysterious intersection, a slight fracturing in reality that allows an other-worldliness creeps in.
"Sometimes at night, as I walked through the darker parts of the campground, among empty sites and family-size tents strewn with pine needles, I thought of the skating rink and then I was afraid. Afraid that I might come across something from the rink, snagged, hidden in the darkness. Sometimes the air and rats scuttling along the branches of the trees almost made that presence visible..." P158
"... her eyes were covered by the blurry film that was a sign and agent of a force sucking her away toward another reality." P 172
Unsettling as always.
Other Bolaño reviews here.

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