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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Skating Rink

by
Roberto Bolaño


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Skating Rink



Title: The Skating Rink
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 182 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Skating Rink - US
La pista de hielo - US
The Skating Rink - UK
The Skating Rink - Canada
The Skating Rink - India
La piste de glace - France
La pista di ghiaccio - Italia
La pista de hielo - España
  • Spanish title: La pista de hielo
  • Translated by Chris Andrews

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-turned novel of intersecting lives

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 22/10/2010 Philip Hensher
The Independent A 24/10/2010 Michael Eaude
The National . 23/7/2009 Giles Harvey
New Statesman . 28/10/2010 Alex Preston
The NY Times Book Rev. A 30/8/2009 Wyatt Mason
The Observer . 28/5/2011 Anthony Cummins
San Francisco Chronicle . 10/8/2009 Kevin Canfield
The Telegraph . 22/10/2010 Tim Martin


  From the Reviews:
  • "The flaws are immediately apparent, and rather overwhelming. Bolaño was just not the sort of novelist who should have undertaken a novel consisting of three separate voices. His own voice, in everything he wrote, was singular and direct, and the three narrators here cannot be distinguished at any point. They all sound nervy, rambling and rather aggressive, and at least one of them never came to life as a character from beginning to end. (...) And one of the most infuriating, inept aspects of this novel is exactly the thing which makes his best work so interesting." - Philip Hensher, The Guardian

  • "The writing is outstanding and ably rendered by Chris Andrews from Bolaño's difficult and varied Spanish. Bolaño takes great care with the rhythm of his sentences and chapters. His language is frequently colloquial, sometimes deliberately flat and factual, then often suddenly lyrical (......) Another great achievement of Bolaño's book is his sense of place (...) The Skating Rink is gripping, easy to read, sometimes funny and extraordinarily romantic. A strange book and nearly as good as Bolaño's two masterpieces." - Michael Eaude, The Independent

  • "The Skating Rink is, at least in part, a parody of detective fiction -- or, strictly speaking, of crime fiction, the meaner, sexier, more violent love child of the detective story and 20th-century America. The Skating Rink lavishes on the reader many of the pleasures typically associated with that genre -- suspense, intrigue, the exhilarating spectacle of moral decay -- while making it quite clear that such pleasures are by no means the full extent of what it has to offer; it fondles and flaunts its own artifice, using it to explore chaos, reality, experience. " - Giles Harvey, The National

  • "The typical Bolaño influences are all here -- Perec and Calvino, Kafka and Borges -- but already there is the uniquely arresting voice that we find in the later novels, as well as the densely suggestive imagery and titillating genre-leaping. With its cast of vagabonds and exiles, its interwoven narrative voices and revelation of the currents of violence that run through society, The Skating Rink contains much of what makes late Bolaño great." - Alex Preston, New Statesman

  • "(T)his short, exquisite novel is another unlikely masterpiece, as sui generis as all his books so far. (...) What one does not expect, in Bolaño’s brisk twisting of the genre, is that the three narrators could be so profoundly conjured. (...) Bolaño in The Skating Rink manages to honor genre conventions while simultaneously exploding them, creating a work of intense and unrealized longing." - Wyatt Mason, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This all-out prose can make Bolaño a lot of fun (or, alternatively, ludicrous). (...) As tends to be the case with Bolaño's shorter work, The Skating Rink is less about the destination than the ride – but, like much of what he wrote, it leaves many new novels looking pretty bland." - Anthony Cummins, The Observer

  • "As in any good crime story, there is a fair amount of foreshadowing (the outline of a knife visible through some clothing, the increasing mental instability of one important character). But as he's done before in his popular literary sleuth stories, Bolaño upends the formula, advancing the story in increments that fit together like damaged puzzle pieces." - Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The Skating Rink is a kind of murder mystery, but a very odd kind. A plot rich in genre allusions revolves offhandedly around a bunch of disappointed characters and a cryptic femme fatale: the much-trumpeted murder takes place two thirds of the way through the book and it is solved, with no apparent detective work, somewhat before the end. (...) The Skating Rink is a blackly comic thriller, but the pervasive tone of loss and longing is entirely Bolaño’s own, as are the frequent, though momentary, switches to complete surrealism." - Tim Martin, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       With its three narrators perspective constantly shifts in The Skating Rink, the novel moving from one character's point of view to the next in relatively short chapters.
       The novel takes place in Z, a dead-end sort of town in Catalonia. The three narrators are Remo Morán, Gaspar Heredia, and Enric Rosquelles. Morán settled in Z when he was fairly down and out but became quite successful there, starting out by opening a jewelry store, then leasing a bar, then a campground and a hotel. Mexican poet Heredia was someone he knew from a long time ago, and Morán helped his old but now distant friend by giving him a job at his campground as a night watchman. Rosquelles was an important city official, manager of the Social Services department, among others.
       Rosquelles became enamored of a local girl who made good, Nuria Martí, a figure skater whom he finds to be: "The most beautiful woman I will ever see !" A shake-up at the Spanish Skating Federation leads to the withdrawal of her grant and her being let go from the national team -- but Rosquelles turns this to his advantage. Using his official position -- but without making it public -- he builds a skating ring in the dilapidated Palacio Benvingut, an abandoned house whose: "labyrinthine, chaotic, indecisive layout" made it difficult to even determine how many storeys it had. Here Nuria trains, and supportive Rosquelles can watch over her.
       Z is a small place, and while the three narrators lead largely distinct lives there is some overlap. Nuria connects them, too: Heredia may only be an unnoticed voyeur at the Palacio Benvingut , but Morán has a relationship with her as well -- which Rosquelles also finds out about. The narratives describe their separate lives, beginning far apart: even (or: especially) after Morán gives Heredia a job he chooses to keep his distance. Eventually, however, in ever-tightening loops, their lives close in on one another.
       It all leads to murder. A bloody body is discovered in the middle of the skating rink, and with it also Rosquelles' misappropriation of funds.
       The Skating Rink isn't really a murder-mystery. Even before it had happened, as in most of Bolaño's books, Z was yet another place in which serial and unexplained murder loomed at least somewhere in the background -- Morán here recalling a murder that happened a year after he arrived in Z, a girl killed and then raped (in that order), one of several such victims whose killer was never found. This was just one of many shadows cast over the city -- though most of the others were much less serious, from the local political games (and Rosquelles mighty fall) to the campground, a world unto its own that functioned under slightly different rules and expectations. This latest murder has more profound and immediate consequences, yet the crime per se remains almost secondary.
        Nuria remains an elusive figure. Despite her significance to the men, she does not make much of an impression; typically, Bolaño seems to find it easier to write about her in her absence, having her mother boast of her, or her young sister. Typically, too, when Rosquelles learns much later that Nuria has left Z and that she posed for "artistic nude shots" he spends: "more than a week trying to get hold of the magazine, but all my efforts were in vain" (despite it being: "a well-known magazine with a nationwide circulation"). She remains, in some way, intangible, a true picture of her -- even just a photograph -- impossible to get a fix on. The sex that Morán has with her also ultimately proves unsatisfying, as: "she always talked about the same things: murder and skating" as she came to climax. As so often in Bolaño's fiction, the author doesn't seem quite sure what to do with his beautiful sirens.
       The men are more convincing figures, their lives and fates as they recount them ringing true. Surprisingly (for a Bolaño-fiction), there is little writing or artistic creation going on here, despite the fact that Morán describes Heredia as a poet, and that Rosquelles is given a novel that was written by Morán at one point; this is among the least (overtly) literary of Bolaño's works. (Bonus points, however, for one of the few literary citations, as Morán quotes Hans Henny Jahnn, of all people .....)
       What poetry there is here is, of course, in the Palacio Benvingut, and what the characters will it to be. Otherwise, Z is a tired place of little culture, a place as poorly suited for poets as it is for ice skating princesses. Bolaño writes of everyday lives whose ambitions are tightly bound by the surroundings. Morán and Rosquelles (for a while) have done well for themselves, on a local level, but even Rosquelles recognized that, for example, he'd have to let Nuria go if she were to achieve real success, on the national and international level. Heredia, meanwhile, is little more than part of a smaller campground-universe.
       The Skating Rink is a more conventional novel than the other works of Bolaño released in English to date, and missing some of the flair of the greater later novels. In its structure and many of its characters, however, much impresses. Already there's a roundabout way of presenting the story, but with its three narrators alternating every few pages it is much more controlled than in some of the later, looser works. The story builds up like a twirling skater slowly drawing her arms in into a final whirl, and while Bolaño did not yet dare experiment with all the dizzying potential of presenting his novel in this way, it is still a satisfying work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 May 2009

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Links:

The Skating Rink: Reviews: Roberto Bolaño: Other books by Roberto Bolaño under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chilean author Roberto Bolaño lived 1953 to 2003.

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© 2009-2014 the complete review

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