cover image Maqroll: Three Novellas

Maqroll: Three Novellas

Alvaro Mutis. HarperCollins Publishers, $20 (289pp) ISBN 978-0-06-016623-6

In the adventures chronicled in these three related fictions, Colombian writer Mutis gives his protagonist, Maqroll, a cosmopolitan background and an appetite for obscure works of medieval biography, yet confines him to Panama City and the Andean cordillera. The veil Mutis draws between Maqroll's experience and the region's history seems coy and unedifying. He never explains whether ``Maqroll'' is a first name, a surname or a nickname, nor does he reveal Maqroll's nationality, preferred language or early history beyond sometimes calling him ``the Gaviero,'' or lookout. That this restless spirit is navigating through a rain-forest aboard a diesel barge to negotiate a vague business contract upriver suggests the work of Joseph Conrad, but Mutis's mannerist affectations and literary pretentiousness limit the interest we can take in his character. The women who pass through Maqroll's life relieve his dark void by embodying the feminine principle: ``the girl . . . filled his days with meaning and exorcised the demons of tedium and defeat whose attacks he feared as he feared death.'' Though the imagery and texture of the prose can be quite fine at times, the overall effect is that of a surfeit of words. (Sept.)