I’m still working my way through Bolaño’s backlist, so that when I do get around to reading 2666, I will be well and truly prepared. The Skating Rink is his first published novel, and shows his first step away from the poetry he so loved, to the prose fiction he wrote to support his family. As such, it doesn’t hit the highs that his later works, such as The Savage Detectives does, but it is still a novel that stands up on its own two feet.
Three men in a small town in Spain are caught up in a crime not even they could imagine. Remo Morán is a successful businessman; Gaspar Heredia a nighwatchman in one of Morán’s trailer park; and Enric Rosquelles, a rather corrupt official of the town council. Taking it in turns to narrate the events leading up to the horrific crime, each man gives us his own version of events. And you’ll never guess who done it…
I’ve tagged this as a crime novel, but the only reason is that a murder that does take place. Really, it is the story of three men in love with two women, matches that are desperately unsuitable, and will make the men do stupid things. The eponymous skating rink, for example, is built by Rosquelles for Nuria Martí, the girl skating prodigy, screwed over by regional politics, and forced to leave the national skating team. He falls in love with her, and builds a skating rink in an abandoned castle on the outskirts of town, using council money for the construction.
For a woman who plays a fairly large role in the proceedings, Nuria is surprisingly ciper-like in her appearances. She barely speaks, and spends most of her time silently skating on the rink which has been built especially for her. Perhaps, though, this is what Bolaño was trying to achieve, for in the end, this is not a book about Nuria, despite her rather unfortunate end. I kind of like Rosquelles, even though he’s clearly corrupt, and clearly not a particularly nice man. It’s a great image – building a skating rink in the middle of an abandoned castle for a girl you love, even if the gesture is fairly misguided, and ultimately fatal.
Gaspar Heredia is perhaps the most easily recognisable character to those people who already have some familiarity with Bolaño’s other work. He is a poet from Mexico, and is eking a living out of doing rubbish jobs, and chasing girls around the trailer park, which is populated by a whole load of strange and wonderful personalities. Problematically, though, his narrative strand takes, for a long time, a backseat to the main action, and every time his point of view comes around, you are left wondering what on earth he has to do with the main event. His interactions with a homeless opera singer, and a mysterious woman who has a rather unfortunate tendency to wield knives in public places, are interesting, though ultimately confusing. It is not until the closing pages that everything comes together, and you are left wondering if the whole thing couldn’t have been a little tighter, and more controlled.
Arguably the biggest problem, though, with The Skating Rink is the fact that all three characters have voices that sound very, very similar. I understand that creating three distinct voices in a novel can be difficult, and Bolaño did it to perfection in The Savage Detectives, but here, it doesn’t quite work. They all seem disillusioned, sad, and desperately in love with a woman that they shouldn’t be.
This is not, perhaps, the most positive review of this novel you’re likely to find as you trawl the internet. It is clear that this is Bolaño’s first attempt at proper prose fiction, and there are a lot of flaws. I’m not sure it has a lot of appeal to anyone who isn’t a hardcore Bolaño fan, and if you’re looking for a starting point into his work, I rather think The Savage Detectives is far more interesting, and a far greater indication of his genius.