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Latest Review: "The Antiquarian" by Gustavo Faverón Patriau

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by P.T. Smith on The Antiquarian by Gustavo Faverón Patriau, forthcoming from Black Cat/Grove Press in June of this year.

All I can think about after reading this review is all the books that, to me, are scary enough that I get the thrill I want out of them—but aren’t as terrifying as 99.9% of all the horror/thriller/slasher movies most people seem to use in order to get their hearts racing. I scare easily, it seems, and much prefer the company of all the Turning of the Screws, Cask of Amontillado, and The Black Spider literary variety of spookiness. Some people like experiencing heart palpitations while sitting in a dark movie theater with their shoes pasted to a floor that was apparently washed with a combination of popcorn shards and Fanta. I like to be sitting somewhere—anywhere—with a blood-chilling book and planning the order in which I need to lock my doors and windows when I get home (start with the bathroom window, because although it’s small, it does allow you the chance to check the shower for any intruders) . . .

Enough about my occasional complexes and bouts of insanity! Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review (which has real fictional crazies in it):

Gustavo Faverón Patriau’s The Antiquarian, translated by Joseph Mulligan, is a genre-blending novel, a complete immersion that delves into a lesser-used niche of genre: horror, gothic, the weird. There are visual horrors, psychological ones, and dark corners with threats lurking. When what hides in those corners is revealed, more than once I had to rub my cheek and mutter “what the fuck . . .” It also relies heavily on the structure of noir, and interweaves the two genres to the same degree that it integrates literature’s tropes—here led by Borges and theory—with genre’s. Plot and mystery do drive the book, but the intricate prose makes it so that even when you know what is about to be revealed, you want to see the tricks of language that get us there.

After an unsettling Prologue that begins with a list of ancient deaths, and then a narrator trying to find his opening point, The Antiquarian, like a good detective novel, quickly establishes the basic facts of the case and offers up a body. Three years ago, the narrator’s close friend, Daniel, murdered his wife and has been in an asylum for the mentally ill since. When we learn of a second mystery, of a house fire, Daniel’s injured sister, Sofía, her exile to an asylum, and her subsequent disappearance, connections between the two becoming haunting, whether in Daniel’s psychological damage, or something more.

The narrator’s first investigation is a simple and personal one, to remember his friendship with Daniel, how it began and how it grew. Since our detective, Gustovo, is no professional detective, not even the classic semi-professional, but a psycholinguist and seemingly average man, this remembering eases him toward the depths that he’ll plunge into by the end of the novel. It is also the first move to show that Gustavo is a man whose memory is almost lost to him, repeatedly doubted by those he interrogates, in need of recovering as much as the mysteries surrounding the murder and subsequent madness need uncovering. In fact, at times, he seems almost entirely without an identity.

Once the narrator enters the asylum and interacts with the madmen and madwomen inside, it becomes as if he never leaves, the madness infecting him and the rest of the city. The unnamed city is full of the mildly insane, the potentially so, and the deeper into the hospital we venture, the darker the madness is. The little difference, in tone, in sense of reality, between the narrator’s imaginative prose, and the hallucinations of his friend keeps us from finding safe, grounded reality. To lift a repeated image from the book, it is a spiral, turning, turning, into the dark middle, with specters around any bend.

For the rest of the review and some heebie-jeebies, go here.

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