The structure of a novel serves the narrative. If the structure doesn’t make sense for the story being told, then it doesn’t achieve its purpose. In Daniel Alarcón’s novel At Night We Walk In Circles, the structure is that of interviews and scenes that read like third-person omniscient. It’s a strange effect as the narrator remains out of frame for most of the novel. He’s nameless. His connection to the other characters is uncertain. The knowledge he has to tell the story seems too great. But, it works. The reason it works is that the amount of information he gathers from the characters and from their writings creates a framework for him to become such a powerful narrator. How can he describe their thoughts after an event? He can turn to that page in their journal, read it, and weave it into the larger story.
The narrator, through pursuing the story and discovering how events led to a moment where his life intersected with the other characters, creates a sense of mystery that propels the story forward. Who is he? Why is he telling the story? The answers will come and they’re worth the wait.
In some ways, At Night We Walk In Circles reminds me of Roberto Bolaño’s, The Savage Detectives. Both novels use diaries and interviews to tell the narrative. Characters speak to an unknown narrator and a sense of mystery surrounds the narrative as the truth, or some version of it, is uncovered. Both novels revolves around writers and artists who inhabit the edges of society.
The premise of Alarcón’s novel is that a radical troop of actors reunites to celebrate the performance of their play, The Idiot President, for which the writer, director, and actor was imprisoned by the government. In this re-casting of the play, a young actor who worshipped the writer is chosen to act in the play and travel the country with the other two actors. What follows is a sense of losing one’s way, an understanding of love and imprisonment, and a question of chance and fate. Though perhaps fate is too strong a word. Instead, it may be a question of what outcomes become inevitable as people make choices? As the young actor follows in the steps of his hero, he becomes both the memory which haunts the hero, as well as the hero himself.
At Night We Walk In Circles is an enjoyable novel that transports its reader deep in the Andean mountains, moving into thinner air, higher altitudes and leaving the reader moments to pause in delight at the vista below.