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