This is a strange book to read. I’m a quarter of the way into it and unsure how everything will relate. Part I is about four German literature critics who focus on the novelist, Benno von Archimboldi. The characters come from across Europe and are brought together by their love of Archimboldi, and the romantic relationships which build between the four. To help break things down, I’ve outlined the characters.
First there is Jean-Claude Pelletier. He was born in 1961 and discovered Archimboldi while studying German literature in Paris around the 1980’s.
The next character is Piero Morini. He is Italian, born in 1956, and came across Archimboldi in 1976. Morini seems to be the most centered and calm of the group. He also suffers from multiple sclerosis and is wheelchair bound.
The third character is Manuel Espinoza. He’s much younger than the other two men and originally wanted to be a writer. Esinoza is from Spain.
The last character is Liz Norton. She was born in 1968 and comes across the German writer much later in life.
The four characters all meet via their scholarship of Archimboldi. They are responsible, in a way, for rejuvenating interest in the writer. Archimboldi however remains hidden from the public. No one has interviewed him, no one seems to know his where abouts. The critics are always on the lookout for him, but it’s been a fruitless search. Finally, they get a tip that he’s in St. Teresa, Mexico, and the Pelletier, Espinoza, and Norton fly to Mexico in search of him. It should also be noted that the three have been in a love triangle, both men fully aware that Norton is sleeping with the other man and unable to choose between them. What follows is a surreal journey where things are not as they seem. Along the way the three are helped by a Philosophy professor, Amilfitano. Part I ends with the dissolution of the love affairs and a return to Europe.
Part II focuses on Amilfitano. We learn of his early life and the birth of his daughter, as well as the life of his ex-wife, Lola, who is not quite sane and runs off because she is obsessed with a poet who is in an asylum. Amilfitano moves to St. Teresa with his daughter, Rosa, and has his own surreal experiences. He finds a book of geometry, which he can’t remember every purchasing, and hangs it out on a clothesline to see how it will stand up to the elements. The swaying, battered book is a constant throughout his narrative. Amilfitano is troubled by the murders in St. Teresa, fearful for his daughter’s safety, and overwhelmed by the climate. Towards the end of this section, he begins to hear a voice. Finally, he relents to the voice and a sense of calm overtakes him. It seems as though things will improve.
I just started Part III about a journalist named Oscar Fate whose real name is Quincy Williams. So far, the part about Amilfitano was the hardest read. It has a dreamy quality and so much of the narrative is locked up in Amilfitano’s thoughts.