Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Ways of Going Home, By Alejandro Zambra. Granta, £12.99
Tuesday 29 January 2013
Alejandro Zambra's first novel, Bonsai, brought the young Chilean poet international fame. It was followed by The Private Lives of Trees, which retained interest in the author. In this, his third and longest – but still very short – novel, translated by Megan McDowell, Zambra uses the ploy of describing the author at work on his new book which, needless to say, is the one we are reading. Zambra adopted similar metafictional devices in its two predecessors.
The new novel evokes a wry and somewhat precious romanticism, with the central love affair subject to the corrosive influences of memory. Zambra shifts between the narrative present and revisiting a comfortable upbringing during difficult times. The most powerful passage concerns a meeting with his parents during the 2010 Chilean elections, when the narrator's father comes out with the line his son most dreads hearing: "Pinochet was a dictator and all that, he killed some people, but at least back then there was order."
The most provocative idea in the book is the claim that the generation of Chileans born, like Zambra, in the years immediately following the coup of 1973 is composed of "secondary characters". Our young hero suffers a vague sense of guilt at having been felicitously spared a personal legacy from those years of torture, disappearances and exile.
But Zambra's narrator seems muddled as to what precisely his generation's anomie involves. He describes his peer group as: "deserters, I think. We've become war correspondents, tourists." This leaves the reader wondering, well, which are you exactly: a deserter, a war correspondent or a tourist? There is a hell of a difference, and the author's unwillingness to differentiate indicates either laziness or a lack of interest in his own thesis.
Zambra at his best offers an intimate recognition of his central characters, and he can evoke a setting succinctly. He works confidently within his preferred formula, but we can't escape the conclusion that Ways of Going Home is overly self-referential, and lacking depth or acuity. It is a readable but ultimately frustrating story aimed, like Bonsai, at a young adult market.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake online report claiming artist's identity has been revealed
- 3 Former East 17 frontman Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Paralysed man Darek Fidyka walks again after treatment by British doctors on brink of 'cure'
James Blunt finally admits the truth: 'You're Beautiful' is annoying
Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 5: Period drama falls disappointingly flat
Star Wars Episode 7 has almost finished filming
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt is intriguing as unsympathetic war hero
Batman v Superman: Side-kick Robin to be 'woman played by Jena Malone'
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
Worst Airports of 2014: Poll names Islamabad airport in Pakistan worst in the world