The Skating Rink was Roberto Bolano's first published novel. The English translation became available last year as the first wave of the author's translated works began to roll out from New Directions. And I have been holding on to it since last fall, finding one excuse after another not to read it. So consuming was 2666 that I suspected nothing else could satisfy in the same way. Or even come close. And the book is so slight. And the plot seems so pedestrian when reduced to a publisher's blurb. So of course I found it exquisite and now regret not reading it sooner.
On the surface, the novel is about a murder that occurs in the Spanish seaside resort town of Z. The story is told from the point of view of three male narrators as they reflect upon the events of that one summer. Remo Moran is the poet/novelist/successful businessman. Gaspar Heredia is Moran's friend from their days in Mexico running with other poets but is now employed by Moran as a caretaker at Moran's campground. And Enric Rosquelles is a fat and arrogant psychologist working in social services offices for the city. Moran and Rosquelles both admire the beautiful young ice skater, Nuria Marti, and Heredia floats along the periphery of those two men's lives.
The path to body and killer does not follow the typical path of detective fiction. There is, after all, no detective important to the book. And, as suggested by the quote that precedes the novel ("If I must live then let it be rudderless, in delirium - Mario Santiago), clarity is not the aim here. Full of images of fog, obfuscated images and references to only vague understanding, we are meant to feel at loose ends like the two writer narrators. And we are meant to sense that the certainty of the bureaucrat arises from the centralist position he occupies in society. He interprets even the most serious outcomes through the viewpoint of privilege, of possibility for redemption, rebirth. As when he says:
"We all have to die a bit every now and then and usually its so gradual that we end up more alive than ever. Infinitely old and infinitely alive."
The more removed each narrator is from center, the greater the sense of suspended reality in their voice. The more tenuous the ties to the perceived real. And yet all three have skewed self-perceptions as shown through their conflicting accounts of the crime and the events leading to and following it. There is something missing from each of them, something unaccountable and undefined that lends a sadness to the novel. Not your typical detective novel. The murder itself appears incidental after all is said. Elegant, evocative prose that throws in barely noticeable surprises and revelations. But you must read it for yourself to see. You would be so mad at me if I told you more ...