The Antiquarian

Gustavo Faverón Patriau, trans. from the Spanish by Joseph Mulligan. Grove/Black Cat, $16 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2160-8
The debut novel from Patriau, a Peruvian journalist, critic, and Roberto Bolaño scholar, possesses much of the unease and horror characteristic of Bolaño’s work. Psycholinguist Gustavo is contacted by his old friend Daniel, whom he hasn’t heard from in years. Daniel asks Gustavo to visit him in a nearby mental institution, where he’s being held for murdering his fiancée. Daniel, a mild-mannered eccentric who loves antique books, promises to reveal why he did what he did, and thus draws Gustavo into a search through the underground and back alleys of his unnamed South American country. Along the way, Gustavo encounters a rare book dealer network that’s actually a front for traffickers in illegally obtained human organs. One character, stricken with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which gives its victim an extremely elastic body, subjects another character to “the torture of her ecstatic expressions when one of her bones would break.... The sickness was her favorite toy.” But despite the gripping plot, Patriau’s beautiful and beguiling prose, full of dark fables (including the story of a 16-inch-tall boy) and bleak history lessons, is the real star: “As you know, mental illnesses make you speak, but they usually transform language into ritual”; “We’re all monsters, in one way or another, it’s just a matter of delving into one’s own birth defects.” This perfect blend of page-turning narrative and knockout prose is as good as it gets—Patriau’s book is pure pitch-black fun. Agent: Ryan Fischer-Harbage, the Fischer-Harbage Agency. (June)
Reviewed on: 02/03/2014
Release date: 06/01/2014
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