The Dogs of Paradise, by Abel Posse

Continuing with a short Argentinian author theme, Abel Posse‘s The Dogs of Paradise won the prestigious Romulo Gallegos prize back in 1987, at a time when it was awarded to the best Spanish language novel of the previous five years (we shall get around to the eponymous Gallegos himself soon enough – we have a book on our shelves – a much revered writer and occasional President of Venezuela). The previous four winners being pretty much Latin American classics, and with Bolaño, Vila-Matas and Vallejo since, I guess I was having high expectations of this, and I guess I was to an extent let down – but only to an extent: the beginning and the end of the novel I enjoyed immensely: it was only in the middle that I felt either I, or perhaps the writer, had lost his way.

The novel is about Columbus’ discovery of America and in terms of interest I guess you can hardly go wrong with the subject, (I’ve for a time had a vague idea I’d like to write a Colombus novel of my own). It begins with a multi-threaded narrative, switching between Columbus’ early life, the lives of some indigenous Americans and – for me the best scenes – the growing power of and love between Fernando and Isobel. Which leads me to my main problem with multi-threaded narratives – which is that, as a reader, I tend to measure them by the strength of the worst strand: in this case the Indian segments, with which I became frustrated and often found myself half-inclined to pass over.

Once Columbus sets out on his voyage, however, the novel picks up again: I particularly enjoyed the scenes within Beatriz de Bobadilla’s murderous and pornographic domain on the Canary Islands; and the whole last part of the book, as Columbus becomes convinced he has discovered, in America, the original Eden and increasingly descends into despotic mysticism, are utterly fascinating and bewildering. Indeed, I came away from the book wondering quite how much of what I’d read was true, since the novel had a tendency every now and again to make footnoted reference to first-hand evidence. – And I wondered too whether the novel hadn’t lost something in translation. I cannot really judge, of course, but I’m a little suspicious of an aphoristic style which may perhaps have become flat and muted.

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