As I am halfway through a translation of Gustavo Faverón Patriau’s novel, El anticuario / The Antiquarian, I recently wrote a review with several lengthier passages of translation for the Barner Books Blog. I thought I might post an excerpt of that article here.
Those who still get a thrill out of going back to Poe’s tales or sinking their literate teeth into prose seared rare will enjoy the suspense of this inaugural novel by the Peruvian writer – a novel that for some has appeared as a fire baptism. My thanks to the author for his continual feedback as I venture through his winding labyrinth.
GOTHIC HORROR TODAY
The Antiquarian by Gustavo Faverón Patriau
Few projects in prose these days are as bold as Gustavo Faverón Patriau’s El anticuario / The Antiquarian, published by Peisa last October in Lima & Santiago. While the Peruvian’s literary & social criticism has made waves in Hispanic circles, his first novel marks a new achievement in the literature of the Americas, finding a way to harmonize narrative traditions from South & North, by stitching together terrifying narrations with a violent patch-worked murder plot to produce what, for all intensive purposes, can be called a postmodern gothic thriller.
From the outset we learn that Daniel has killed Juliana, more than three years ago, & has been sent to a sanitarium. Gustavo, Daniel’s long-time friend & confidant, is determined to figure out how & why he killed her. The investigation is carried out on both external & internal registers, comprised of conversations & interrogations with conspicuous characters as well as steadfast cerebrations, speculations, proofs, & deductions that are elaborated in the mind of Gustavo.
To bring the literary gothic tradition up to date, Faverón Patriau, while writing in Spanish, shows a clear affinity for Edgar Poe & has innovated the genre by implementing fragmented narrative techniques that are reminiscent of Boom literature. In Faverón Patriau’s project of innovating that gothic thread, there is an echo of José Lezama Lima’s resuscitation of the Baroque. But here, we have a gripping tale that questions the limits of friendship, fraternity & human pain, where the consolation for struggle is found in the shared pursuit of knowledge.
El anticuario takes place in an unnamed city, a coastal city, a thinly-masked Lima, where night falls as the fog rolls in enveloping the metropolis with its saline breath. This is the location for the story of Gustavo, a psycho-linguist whose wife has passed away from cancer before the story begins, & of his close friend, Daniel, a bibliophile whose encyclopedic memory constantly leads him into anecdotal digressions that offer the reader stories within the story. The other protagonists include Sophia, Daniel’s sister; Juliana, Daniel’s girlfriend; Adela, Daniel & Juliana’s maid; Huk, a female mental patient; & then Mireaux, Yanaúma, & Gálvez, co-owners of The Circle, a book store where the rarest of objects & services can be acquired, always for a price. Finally & centrally, there is a character that goes by the name of The Antiquarian, likely the most poetic persona of the drama. We can look to the author for a succinct description of him:
“The Antiquarian is the type of man who cloisters himself in a tower of books and sun-faded bundles of paper, ever a stranger to the world around him. He reads about the life of the deceased in octavo tomes, printed in venerable languages, and he studies both time and space without exposing himself to the inclemency of neither time nor space: a prisoner, surrounded by columns of printed paper, illegible scribbles, oriental characters, each moment of humanity available to him in alphabetical order lining the walls of his room, immune to everything save for his gaze. Thirty years of his life has he consumed in this place, from which he escapes by himself after nightfall. With a book in his hand and a finger saving his page, the Antiquarian most carefully verifies the similarities and differences between the physical world and the world that he knows by memory from the books…”
Faverón Patriau makes literary use of terror, not as theme, not on a decadent whim that elicits an exploration of the grotesque (i.e. not limited to scatology), nor even as a socio-political platform upon which another writer might have espoused a mundane ideology. For Faverón Patriau terror is a vehicle that facilitates a penetrating investigation into the reality of human suffering & camaraderie. In this way & in El anticuario, the same road that leads into the nether regions of the world, where violence reigns in a gruesome depiction of reality, also leads into the Self, where internalized ethical dimensions of being are examined with… Continue reading this article at Barner Books Blog.