Book Reviews

At Night We Walk in Circles: A Novel by Daniel Alarcón

This is a bewildering story. I have picked it up and dropped it about 6 times. Sometimes in the same minute. I didn’t personally like it but it did receive some critical acclaim so I forced myself to read on. In short,  the story is about a young actor, Nelson, who becomes the third wheel in a tour of his writer-hero Henry’s play “The Idiot President,” for which Henry spent six months in one of the scariest prisons in Peru when it was first produced.

There was a problem: No one cared about human rights anymore, not at home or abroad. They cared about growth–hoped for and celebrated in all the newspapers, invoked by zealous bureaucrats in every self-serving television interview. On this matter, the filmmaker was agnostic–he came from money, and couldn’t see the urgency. Like many of his ilk, he sometimes confused poverty (which must be eradicated!) with folklore (which must be preserved!), but it was a genuine confusion, without a hint of ill intention, which only made it more infuriating.

Now the war is over, the country is safer, they think, so they take the old three-person play out of storage and on a small rickety tour into the countryside. Somewhere along the way, Nelson gets embedded in an actual absurd domestic drama. It has huge consequences, for him at least.

“We Walk in Circles” is the portrait of an actor as a young Latin American man at a time when it is not politics that can ruin his life but any brush against the drug cartels and their wide webs of influence, their paranoiac brand of terror.

Sure, there is insight into the human soul, but nothing especially interesting, and certainly nothing new. The characters – well, I just didn’t feel them, or feel for them. There was no connection, that feeling that you care about people even when you know you are reading fiction.

So perhaps people more sensitive than I will love this book, as quite a few reviewers have, but for me, I was bored.   I think most of the problem was the author making such a big deal of this “event” that changed everything, that left this huge impact on all the characters lives. There was a LOT of foreshadowing that was very intriguing at first, but got to be too much after awhile. After all the hoopla over the ending I was extremely disappointed. It was such a letdown.

The narrative was drowning in words, coming up for air only to gulp more words. There was more than a little self indulgence … oooh look … my navel! … a shame, as there were some vibrant pieces of writing. It just laboured too much as a novel.

“He imagined her impressed by his maturity, by his willingness to share her with another man. But this formulation was partial. It did not take into account the fact that she’d loved him, or that he’d broken her heart. It did not consider that her heart might be broken still, or that every time they slept together, it broke a little more.”