My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“This is going to be a horror story. A story of murder, detection and horror. But it won’t appear to be, for the simple reason that I am the teller. Told by me, it won’t seem like that. Although, in fact, it’s the story of a terrible crime.”
And so begins the awkward, hallucinatory tale of Auxiliano Lacouture; the narrator of our story and self-proclaimed ‘mother of Mexican poetry‘. The story begins neither here nor there,but winds itself around people, events and fragmented memories like a kite driven by a wayward wind. Lacouture’s erratic narrative comes to rest on odd moments between art and people as Bolano tries to express the deep, subliminal messages sent and received by poets and their poetry.
“I am the mother of Mexico’s poets. I am the only one who held out in the university in 1968, when the riot police and the army came in… I stayed there with a book by Pedro Garfias.”
The story itself is loosely anchored around the drastic events of 1968, when the government ordered the storming of all state Universities, including the one Lacouture attends. Suddenly Lacouture finds herself trapped alone in the lavatory on the fourth-floor of the university, where she stays for 12 days without food or water. With nothing but a poetry book and her own memories, Lacouture begins to deconstruct events, recalling, rewinding and often going forward in time to piece together this unlikely ‘horror story’.
Part stream-of-consciousness, part feverish prophecy; the story unfolds as a metaphor for the confusion and rage that swells in the heart of Mexican poetry. Poets dead and alive populate the narrative, adding to the confused, collective cacophony of a country that rests on political turmoil. Amongst this, Lacouture emerges from the lavatory as a heroine, and is hailed by professors and students alike as a champion of literary art. She becomes a living legend, but her solitary confinement has opened a mystical door inside her. She had become a muse, a ‘Calliope’, as her eyes begun to see the power of poetry beyond the page, as she sees the army of the dead marching towards the unknown.
“And I heard them sing. I hear them singing still, faintly, even now that I am no longer in the valley, a barely audible murmur, the prettiest children of Latin America, the ill-fed and the well-fed children those who had everything and those who had nothing, such a beautiful song it is… I heard them sing and I went mad.
And although the song I heard was about war, about the heroic deeds of a whole generation of young Latin Americans led to sacrifice, I knew that above and beyond all, it was about courage and mirrors, desire and pleasure.
And that song is our amulet.”
The quote above is the last paragraph and neatly ties up the ideology that drives this book which was pretty sketchy to begin with. The roundabout telling of the story and it’s incongruence sometimes frustrated me. But something inside me told me to keep reading on. Somewhere in there is a method to the madness, it glimmers through the tangle of voices the novel is composed from. I would say a re-read is in order if I am to truly understand that method.