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Down the Rabbit Hole
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2013 Book Discussions > Down the Rabbit Hole - General Discussion, No Spoilers (September 2013)

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Deborah | 983 comments This is a short read. I think we should leave it at this - This is a place to discuss the book in the most general sense. The writing, the setting, the author, it's place in literature, but not the specifics in such a way as to contain spoilers.

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments My first reaction was: Such an odd little book. My second reaction was: Such an odd little book. And my final reaction: Such an odd little book!

Also a sad little book. Using a child as the point of view character really works well here.

Diane S ☔ I thought this was a very well thought out novella. Was amazed at how much the author accomplished using such a limited setting. Agree with Peter, that this would only work using a child's point of view.

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments I don't think it was the main character's father's or teacher's story. The core of it was how a child can adapt to almost any situation, will make a life out of what they are used to, and how when the bizarre is all you ever know, the bizarre is normal. The father and the teacher made the decisions that led to their lives: Tochtli just grew where he was planted.

message 5: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 89 comments I read this, it had been on my radar for a while, but seeing it was on the list this month I picked up a copy from the library and dug in.

I would recommend it to anyone in two minds about it to give it a try. It is a very short book but it condenses a fair amount into it whilst still feeling breezy rather than dense.

I would have struggled with both the narrator and some of the devices the author used if the book had been any longer but within the length of the story I found these elements charming and appealing.

There is a fair amount of darkness beneath the zippy exterior but when you bare in mind the setting of the story the darkness shouldnt be too much of a surprise... I will say more on this later in the month in the "with spoilers" section but suffice it to say there is plenty of substance beneath the quirks of the tale.

Bethany I agree with Carrie that I love the concept of the book, seeing a "sordid" world from the eyes of a child, but I did not think it worked as well as it could here. Tochtli seemed older than the age given (7?), and not enough clues were given about the situations the characters faced from Tochtli's POV. We only really know about him, and the father and teacher are peripheral. What we do know about Tochtli is that he is a very spoiled, profoundly disturbed child, which can make for uncomfortable reading.
I think another book with the same concept--Room by Emma Donoghue did a much better job of using a child's voice and also gave us enough detail about the child's situation to be engaging and impactful.

Daniel I think the problem with odd books (a wonderfully eloquent description above by Peter that made me chuckle) is that whether or not they "work" is largely determined by our personal taste. Far from finding myself annoyed, I found myself enchanted. But how to explain why? It's like arguing whether Astaire or Kelly was the better dancer. (Well, maybe that's not a fair comparison, because we all know in our hearts it was Astaire...).

One thing that particularly interested me was having what amounts to purely Mexican narcoliteratura could have such a Eurocentric publishing history. It makes me wonder whether Villalobos wrote with the intention of appealing to an audience in Spain, or if he wrote as a Mexican who just happened to be living in Barcelona while seeking a publisher. In any case, I think the roundabout route adds a unique flavour and style to the novel.

Daniel Carrie wrote: "Oh, and if we could put Kelly's face on Astaire's body, I'd be a happy camper! ;) "

I almost peed my pants there. A most excellent rejoinder!

Deborah | 983 comments Carrie, I don't like kids very much. Or at least I truly dislike them in general, though I often like them as individuals. I'm definitely a crabby old hoot!

I wanted to contrast the reactions we're having with the narration to the reactions we had to Swamplandia. It's not that the "precociousness" doesn't work for me in this piece, it's that I felt that I needed to make a conscious decision for it to not bother me. When we read Swamplandia, many of us had a really negative reaction to the adult vocabulary of the main character. Oddly, I found that voice more organic than this one.

message 10: by Deborah (last edited Sep 06, 2013 08:34AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Deborah | 983 comments I wanted to talk a little about Mexico. I have a friend in Texas whose wife runs a non-profit dealing with victims of torture. Many of their clients arrive from Mexico, Central and South America. She told me that up until just a few years ago many churches did missionary work in Mexico. We didn't speak too much about what that entails, but my assumption is that it's a fairly practical sort of help rather than religious.

Most don't go any more. The level of violence is so extreme that nowhere and nothing is safe.

When you look at Mexico in the last half decade it starts to look like a particularly violent PS3 game! It's hard to write this because the situation is so surreal that you could babble on for an hour and still fail to be comprehensive or feel as though you've been credible.

In a way I feel that this novel both addresses that and sidesteps it. I think it's realer than many of us would like to believe. But it implies that this child is more at risk and more exposed. But I wonder if he's actually more protected, as his father's wealth, power and paranoia shield him from a world where anyone can be shot at their own dinner table, where anyone can be kidnapped and where the violence becomes more intrusive and pervasive daily.

message 11: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 89 comments I do think, particularly for such a short book it is full of artifices that you need to role with to enjoy the tale. The reading the dictionary and bringing this learning into the narration for one - if you do so I do feel that this is an enjoyable and interesting short read. A little like with Diaz I am interested to know how his writing will be with a very different narrator and how well or badly, sophisticated or shallow it will seem.

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I've only read the first 25 pages, but kid's vocabulary seemed like a reasonable fit. He's proud of learning big words on his own by reading the dictionary, and he tends to use the latest ones (pathetic, sordid, devastating) over and over, and sometimes incorrectly, like he is trying to use those words whether they quite fit or not.

message 13: by Lily (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2472 comments Inter-library loan copy arrived today. Will be back when I've read more than I did over lunch. Thx all for the comments here, which I decided to browse just now. Am avoiding the other thread for now. (Bethany makes me ask once again, do I relent and give Room consideration? So far, the answer keeps coming back, I don't think so.)

Terry Pearce I've only read maybe a quarter of it so far, but I am loving the voice. It reminds me of The Remains of the Day in that we get what the narrator is describing and we -- having more awareness than he -- can see past it to many things that are happening without the narrator's full understanding. I think this is a tough trick to pull off well, and so far it seems as if he's doing so. His personality seems quite real for a kid put in that position, with that kind of parenting.

I'm looking forward to my journey home today so that I can read more.

Comparisons are massively taste-related, but I was mixed about Room's voice [I thought it worked very well in the early part of the novel and less so later]. I'll comment further on this when I've read it in full.

My mind is also drawing some [positive] parallels with the early chapters of Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna in terms of the child's upbringing and precociousness.

message 15: by Lily (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2472 comments Terry wrote: "It reminds me of The Remains of the Day in that we get what the narrator is describing and we -- having more awareness than he -- can see past it to many things that are happening without the narrator's full understanding. I think this is a tough trick to pull off well, and so far it seems as if he's doing so. ..."

Terry -- thanks for the parallel. I agree, but hadn't thought about it from that aspect.

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