Roberto Bolaño — The Skating Rink

The very first thing that really caught my eye in The Skating Rink was the following passage, which simply made me laugh aloud:

To tell you the truth I often think it was a mistake to enroll in law school. Why am I pushing myself through this? It’s more and more of a drag as the years go by. Which doesn’t mean I’m going to give up. I never give up. sometimes I’m slow and sometimes I’m quick—part tortoise, part Achilles—but I never give up.

Another of Bolaño’s books that is a first-read for me. It’s a strange process to get them; they’re not translated in the order of publication, but after the success of The Savage Detectives and 2666 in the English-language markets, it seems as though all of his books, no matter how minor, are in for translation, which is great… but still sad to think that it’s all posthumous, and that he died so young with so many stories still to write. It’s also a little like living his life in reverse; reading 2666, his last book, and then a steady trickle of older works. Either way, I’m always pleased when another one is translated, and The Skating Rink is no exception.

Bolaño’s preoccupation with mysteries, murders, and detectives is again on display here; one of the characters even says that in another life, he would have liked to have been a detective. The story is told from three voices, three different men living in Z, a small Catalan coastal town. Gaspar Heredia, a poet; Remo Morán, a Chilean owner of tourist businesses, and Enric Rosquelles, a heavy, awkward bureaucrat. Morán and Rosquelles are both in love with Nuria, a pretty young ice skater who used to be a part of the Spanish Olympic team. It is Rosquelles’ obsession with her that leads to the secret construction of the Palacio Benvingut, a skating rink housed inside old, abandoned mansion ruins. The story is told from those three perspectives, almost as if each are answering the questions of a detective, building the tension up in the story, gradually. Though Rosquelles’ affection for Nuria, though a little creepy, mostly seems to come from a lonely, good heart, she has affairs with a few men, including Morán… and eventually, events end in murder, though the revelation of the murderer comes as a bit of surprise at the very last minute of the story.

This book, written in his colloquial way of writing (each characters has very distinctive voices, and the effect of someone narrating events while talking to you, the reader, is really well done here) is a tightly wound spring waiting to snap. You know something terrible is going to happen; you just don’t know who, what, why. The mystery is what keeps the interest, along with the curiously strange, flawed characters, and the labyrinth of an ice skating rink at the heart of it all. Again, not in the league of The Savage Detectives or 2666 but a pretty fantastic book anyway, always a treat to read.

We all have to die a bit every now and then and usually it’s so gradual that we end up more alive than ever. Infinitely old and infinitely alive.

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