Monday, September 06, 2010

Annoying Columbian novel

I finished reading the novel "The Informers" by Juan Gabriel Vásquez. The language is beautiful, and I haven't read a novel by a Columbian since reading something by Gabriel Garcia Márquez a long time ago, so it was very interesting to read something set in modern-day Columbia and be assured that it is not merely a third world country that was, in the 1980s, very nearly a failed state, but has something of a culture and a history. (The view I have of places like Mexico, Guatemala and Columbia, places where crime lords or secret police have held sway over large swaths of the country if not the entire country, is pretty much the picture Bolaño paints of Santa Teresa in "2666," or in reality in large parts of Mexico these days, so it always surprises me to find out that in these places live people who are literate, educated and cultured, that they're not all at each other's throats.)

But as I say, I was annoyed by this book, because of the author's tendency to obscure the most important information about relationships between characters and the basic events of the plot. I don't think it's just my own denseness, because it was like this all the way through: about the most important narrative and character elements, the author is deliberately vague. So that I enjoyed the reading but not the story so much, and in the end I'm still not quite sure what the relationship was between a few of the major characters, and most of all the central question of the book, which is why the narrator's father betrayed his best friend (and it took 90% of the book to make clear that betrayal had actually happened). I understand the authorial strategy of being sly with information -- Cris compared it to the way a poet shows things through symbolism or other techniques -- especially as a way to mirror the time and effort the narrator takes to find out the same information. But in this book the narrator finds out information fifty pages before the reader does, and then -- and this is the annoying part -- constantly refers to it as if the information had also been shared with the reader, so that as a reader I was constantly asking myself, wait, did I miss something? And like I say, I never learned the main question of the book, which is the motivation for its main action, the act of informing to which the title refers. I don't think it was ever revealed -- but because the author obscures information all along, I'm not sure. so, yeah, annoying.

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