Tuesday, 29 July 2014

faces in the crowd [valeria luiselli]

Faces in the Crowd is a sly, engaging short novel. It’s set in at least three timelines, possibly more. In one, the narrator relates how, working for a small NY press, she convinced her editor to publish the poems of obscure Mexican poet, Gilberto Owen. Mainly by deceiving him as to the origin of the translations. In another timeline, the same narrator, writing the book we are reading, offers details of a marriage which appears to be falling apart, in spite of the fact the couple have two young children. In the third timeline, we step into the world of Owen himself, as he hangs out in a New York of speakeasies and deluded foreign poets.

The three timelines snuggle up alongside one another in a neat, poetic fashion. Images flip from one timeline to another (an orange tree in a pot plays an important narrative role in all three strands). The book has a staccato quality, frequently constructed from tiny fragments of life whose potency comes from their juxtaposition with other tiny fragments of another life. There’s a reference to Bolaño at one point, with the narrator’s editor asking her if she knew him. She feigns disinterest, but her novel, with its quest to discover and corporealise a lost Latin poet is eminently Bolañesque, whilst at the same time being all its own thing. Luiselli’s voice rings through, if not loud and clear, then dextrously. This feels like a book which has been woven as much as written, a patchwork quilt which wraps its readers up, sheltering them from their cold, Southern Hemisphere nights. 

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