The Shape Of Bones by Daniel Galera
First published in Portuguese as Maos De Cavalo in Brazil by Companhia Das Letras in 2006. English language translation by Alison Entrekin published by Hamish Hamilton today, the 6th April 2017.
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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
'From one of Brazil's foremost literary voices comes a gripping, visceral new novel about youth, power and the nature of manhood.
A man rises at 5 a.m. and leaves his home. He does not wake his wife or child to bid them goodbye. He starts his car - an SUV filled with survival gear - but does not drive to his friend's house as planned. Instead, gliding through the sleeping streets of Porto Alegre, he is haunted by ghosts of himself: the fearless boy riding a battered stunt bike, the silent adolescent fascinated by violence, the obsessive young surgeon, the distant husband.
As the dawn comes on and people slowly fill the streets, the man drives unthinkingly, inexorably, back to the old neighbourhood of his youth. What is pulling him back there? Perhaps the need to make something happen, perhaps just nostalgia. Or perhaps he is looking for absolution - from a crime he has carried in his heart for fifteen years.'
The opening chapter of The Shape Of Bones follows, almost in real time, an anonymous Urban Cyclist speeding through the back streets of Porto Alegre in Brazil. It's a exhilarating start to this novel and expertly sets the tone for the rest of the story. We don't initially know which of the characters he will turn out to be. I think this chapter is also the earliest time-wise. Galera uses time jumps to good effect to show how this boy's life progresses from daredevil child to sought-after plastic surgeon.
I loved the many detailed evocations of Porto Alegre, especially the Esplanada district where much of this story takes place. Galera makes it easy to vividly imagine these streets, parks and wastelands, and the gangs of children and adolescents wasting time there. He does a great job of establishing their fluid relationships as bonds are made and broken with the passage of time. I felt chapters dealing with the man in his thirties weren't as convincing however and didn't have the energy of those portraying his teenage years. I think this caused my disillusionment with what should have been the absolute denouement of the tale, because I wasn't invested enough to fully empathise with the man's actions. The Shape Of Bones otherwise is very good and certainly well worth reading, but not quite as great as earlier on I had thought it would be.
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Books by Daniel Galera / Contemporary fiction / Books from Brazil