Saturday, 30 June 2018

The Shape Of The Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez


The Shape Of The Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
First published in Spanish as La forma de las ruinas by Penguin in 2015. English language translation by Anne McLean published in the UK by MacLehose Press on the 3rd May 2018.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £14.48 (HB)
Wordery : from £14.47 (HB)
Waterstones : from £20 (HB)
Amazon : from $13.14 / £8.53 (used HB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

The Shape of the Ruins is Vásquez's most ambitious, challenging and rewarding novel to date. His previous novel, The Sound of Things Falling, won Spain's Alfaguara Prize, Italy's Von Rezzori Prize and the 2014 Dublin IMPAC literary Award.
It takes the form of personal and formal investigations into two political assassinations - the murders of Rafael Uribe Uribe in 1914, the man who inspired García Márquez's General Buendia in One Hundred Years of Solitude, and of the charismatic Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the man who might have been Colombia's J.F.K., gunned down on the brink of success in the presidential elections of 1948. Separated by more than 30 years, the two murders at first appear unconnected, but as the novel progresses Vásquez reveals how between them they contain the seeds of the violence that has bedevilled Colombia ever since.


I really wasn't sure whether The Shape Of The Ruins was going to be a good book for me and for probably about the first third of it I was more ploughing through than avidly page turning. I freely admit that 1940s Colombia would not be my Mastermind subject and I felt I needed to have had a basic grounding in who was who, at least, in order to not be as overwhelmed as I was initially. Vasquez does explain where he can, but this book starts out quite drily with what I would describe as a very male style of writing. Despite ostensibly being fiction, true life men such as the assassinated Gaitan take centre stage and there are many names appearing one after another after another. I wanted these men to be fully fleshed out so that I could remember them when they reappeared a chapter or two later. Unfortunately this didn't always happen.

There are numerous commonalities with Elza: The Girl (Sergio Rodrigues) in that both books are fictionalised true crime set in Latin American countries; Brazil for Elza, Colombia for The Shape Of The Ruins. Each story explores conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths and, as an old X Files fan, I do like a good shady background! For me, this took off when Vasquez switches his focus from Gaitan's assassination to that of Uribe Uribe in 1915. Suddenly it was as though I was reading a different book! Characters leap of the page and I was totally absorbed in the tale of how a young Bogotan lawyer, Anzola, had attempted to discover and publicise The Truth. Political shenanigans, the workers uniting, unreliable witnesses, police brutality, it's all vividly portrayed and I was easily caught up in the excitement and danger. This engagement continued right to the end of The Shape Of The Ruins so I would advise any other readers struggling early on to stick with it. (Although if you love the first half, you might conversely then lose enthusiasm later on!)

I'm still not sure why Vasquez wrote himself in as the central narrating character, or gave this character his name at any rate. It did make the book feel more like real history than reading a novel, but also meant I was less sure where the lines between the truth, a Truth, and fiction should be drawn. I suspect that was the point!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Juan Gabriel Vasquez / Historical fiction / Books from Colombia

12 comments:

  1. This sounds like one of those books that are smarter than me. I’m glad you mostly liked it!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

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    1. I'm frequently amazed by just how much history happened all over the world in the 1940s. It was such an insane decade in many ways

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  2. It's definitely harder for me to remember characters when they're just kind of thrown onto the page and I don't get to know them much. Glad it got better though!

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    1. I think that's why I prefer historical fiction to history books. I need the people to feel real to me.

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  3. How interesting that he named the MC after himself. I don't think I've ever seen that before.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. I think it was to give the book a more reportage non-fiction vibe and it worked well as a device in that way. I needed to know more of the actual history to understand what was conspiracy theory and what could have been Truth!

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  4. I'm glad you picked it up, I think I would be confused about the character's and author's points of view. But it is a interesting premise.

    Tori @ In Tori Lex

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    1. It took some getting used to but I think ultimately worked well

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  5. *adds to TBR* You always review such interesting books! XD

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    1. Thank you :-)
      I hope you get to enjoy this one!

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  6. I thought this might be a good book for me to get informed on the situation because I am always all for learning more through reading historical fiction. However, it sounds like ground knowledge is kind of needed which isn't really what I would want. Maybe I need to read other books on him and the political situation before maybe trying this one out.

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    1. I thought that. The Shape Of The Ruins is readable without existing knowledge, but I felt I could have got more from it if I had already studied Colombian history.

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