A twisty, tricky metafictional romp that uses a murder mystery to explore the death of the author.
The second novel translated into English by the Chilean novelist (Navidad & Matanza, 2014) is a deliberate attempt to blur the line between fact and fiction, not because it’s autobiographical (though a writer named Carlos figures in the story) but because Labbé wants to explore what makes characters “live” on the page. Carlos, a student and aspiring writer struggling with a detective story, lives with his cousin Alicia and receives a letter from Violeta, who has recently been murdered in her apartment. The book alternates sections from the perspectives of “The Novel” (Carlos’ work, presumably), “The Recipient” (excerpts from Carlos’ diary), and “The Sender,” Violeta, who herself claims to have spent time in a nearby but imaginary land called Neutria. Dream imagery abounds, as do references to various rhetorical conceits—Violeta is fixated on the concept of ekphrasis, of writing out reality in detail as it is happening. All of which is to say that the storytelling gets knotty and recursive around here; readers may wish to take heavy doses of Auster and Borges to prepare to enter this hall of mirrors. But Labbé (and his translator, Vanderhyden, who has an especially tough task here) is never willfully opaque, and Carlos and Violeta emerge from the theorizing as legitimate and full characters in spite of all the philosophizing. Toward the end the characters dwell on a literary theory called Corporalism, “the public declaration of the end of literature to the confusion of character, writing, and author.” As with any literary manifesto, literature would be a glum place if all creators adhered to it. But it’s unexpectedly fun to watch Labbé test it out.
A challenging but endearing attempt to knock down some of the tent poles of narrative fiction.