Ben Winch's Reviews > The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Álvaro Mutis
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Dec 04, 2013

really liked it
bookshelves: colombian, latin-american

Half of this book strikes me as brilliant, half as a testament to wasted talent. The brilliant bits can mostly be found in the earlier collection Maqroll, which comprises the first three of the seven novellas collected here. The first of these, 'The Snow of the Admiral' is easily the most potent, existing on another plane from the others entirely, and for this piece alone I give the book four stars. A first-person depiction, via a series of journal-entries, of a sinister boat journey up a South American river, this is exactly my cup of tea - hallucinatory, intense, enthralling, completely convincing. Mutis relates the genesis of this work in the introduction, telling of its evolution from a prose poem into a 300-page novel and back to the 100 pages we find here. This hard work shows; unfortunately, it also generates high expectations, which are not met by the other pieces. In the second piece, 'Ilona Comes With the Rain', a lazier, more expansive style takes hold, and despite some sharply-wrought moments (most of 'Un Bel Morir', parts of 'Amirbar', the hilarious first part of 'Abdul Bashur, Dreamer of Ships'), doesn't really let go for the remainder of the book. It's as if Mutis were becoming progressively drunker over the course of one of the sumptuous meals he takes such pleasure in describing (indeed, by the last pages the characters seem to do little more than eat and drink, despite that each story proclaims itself, in louder terms than the last, to be the most dramatic and life-changing of all). Apparently, after taking over 40 years to come up with one Maqroll novella (he invented the character at age 19 and wrote 'The Snow of the Admiral' at 63), he then churned them out at a rate of one a year. Why? Money? Obsession? Fear? True, Maqroll is a great character, the kind we miss when he's not around, and no matter how trite or sentimental Mutis's rendering of him he retains this spark of life to the end, but I for one found it painful to watch him drowning in the murk of Mutis's lazy storytelling. RIP Maqroll - you are already missed. That said, I'll be laying hands on Mutis's earlier work (stories and poems) if and when it finally makes it back into print.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Excellent review, this sounds like a good one.


Chris This is a great review, Ben. You nailed it. I loved enough of it to go all in with 5 stars but I definitely agree that the other six novellas don't even come close to the first. Each one is less enjoyable than the one before it. But it's still a damn good book.


message 3: by David (new) - added it

David Well... I guess you kind of justified my neglect of the last novellas with this review.

I loved the first one also. The others 'felt' different, good in some ways, less good in others.


message 4: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch Well all right. It's nice to feel some vindication here. But 'damn good book', Chris? You know, I felt that way after reading the first three novellas in a secondhand edition of Maqroll, and I was excited enough to order a brand new copy of The Adventures and Misadventures straight away despite the overlap. But honestly, by the end of that book I was about ready to throw it across the room. I toyed with giving it 3 stars but because the first novella is a masterpiece I felt unable to. So Mr Penkevich and anyone else reading this, I say approach with caution: I wasn't exaggerating, it really was painful to watch Maqroll dying his slow death.


message 5: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala Ben wrote: " ...But honestly, by the end of that book I was about ready to throw it across the room..."

Somewhere around the middle, I felt like that definitely. Far too many words I thought. But then I got hypnotized by them, and by the way each section doubled back on a previous one or suddenly launched forward towards a future one - the shape of it all really intrigued me.

Anyway, thanks for this review, Ben, which I have reread with much more interest - the details about the time between writing the various bits is so interesting to me now.


message 6: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch Yes I find it fascinating when any author takes that long over a work, especially a work of only 100 pages. And I agree that the shape of it all is interesting - the way Maqroll does nothing more than flit through the shadows in one of the stories (I forget which) for eg. I'm glad you felt the same frustration as I did at some point, though; I hate to seem churlish in my reviews, and I trust your evenhandedness. I wonder how/why he won you back and not me. At the time I just couldn't stomach that story about the little boy, but who knows, maybe I'd see it differently now (having become a stepdad in the interim myself).


message 7: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala I'm still reading the final section so I haven't read the little boy story yet - I think.
Because of circumstances just now, I've been able to read this book fairly fast. If I'd read it more slowly or intermittently, I'd definitely have given up - but I think I'd have missed out on something I'll never forget. In spite of it having been written and published in sections, I'm glad I read the whole of it at the same time - I don't think I'd have come back to it later as you did had I read the first three stories earlier.
I'm thinking about how I'll review it so I'd better save further thoughts for there ;-)


message 8: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala By the way, I agree with you about the last story. I found myself skim reading it - it was full of banalities and told in a painfully slow and over contrived way. It was a relief to turn the last page - I felt as weary as Maqroll sounded.


message 9: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch Aha! It's good to have affirmation, even though I'm still sorry for Maqroll.

Re my reading of the book in two sections, well, there wasn't much pause. I found the first volume secondhand by chance, read it and loved Snow of the Admiral so much that, despite my misgivings about the other two stories in the volume, I went ahead and ordered the whole shebang. Also, like you, I was in a situation which enabled me to devote my attention to it. Otherwise, no, I wouldn't have made it through. (Certainly not if I'd read it now, for eg.)


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