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.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 The confessions of men who ordered mail-order brides
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 'Isis' schoolgirls: Missing British teenager tweets picture of her Syrian takeaway
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding