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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Last Reader

David Toscana

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To purchase The Last Reader

Title: The Last Reader
Author: David Toscana
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004
Length: 188 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Last Reader - US
El último lector - US
The Last Reader - UK
The Last Reader - Canada
The Last Reader - India
El último lector - France
El último lector - España
  • Spanish title: El último lector
  • Translated by Asa Zatz

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Our Assessment:

A- : nicely handled bookish story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 31/8/2009 .
TLS . 29/1/2010 Anthony Furey

  From the Reviews:
  • "Letting go of familiar touchstones like plot, character and structure, this dense stream-of-consciousness narrative raises many resonant questions, but can be a chore to navigate" - Publishers Weekly

  • "(H)is strongest work to date. (...) Toscana's strength as a storyteller lies in his ability to be appropriately sparse at one instance and expansive in the next. (...) Asa Zatz's translation is unobtrusive; the basic diction quickens the narrative." - Anthony Furey, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       The Last Reader is set in the isolated Mexican village of Icamole. There are only some forty houses there, and it hasn't rained in ages; everyone's wells (save one) have run dry, and the villagers rely on deliveries of water -- which one of their own, Melquisedec, fetches from a communal reservoir with his mule-drawn wagon -- in order to survive.
       The one well that has not completely run dry is that of Remigio, but at the opening of the book he finds something else at the bottom of it: a body. It is that of a beautiful thirteen year old girl; obviously, too, she did not fall in accidentally: someone must have thrown her in.
       Remigio asks his father, Lucio, for advice with what to do with the body -- knowing that there will be people looking for her, and that he may well be the easiest and obvious scapegoat if someone has to take the fall for her death. So he disposes of the body instead, hoping that is enough to get rid of the problem.
       It is Lucio, however, that is the central character in the novel. He is the local librarian -- or rather, he was: after the death of his wife he had room in his house, and so when the state came to set up a library they used that space, and appointed him librarian. They sent him books and, for a while, paid him, but eventually withdrew support -- and though the sign now only reads: Bibliote (the ca having crumbled away) Lucio continued to live with the books, and to 'run' the library. Not that anyone ever really uses it.
       Lucio takes books seriously. His own reality is Icamole: completely parched. Books offer alternative worlds -- a familiar enough idea, but one that Toscana handles cleverly and very well. Lucio goes through the piles of books at hand and vets them, stamping those he deems -- applying his own idiosyncratic standards -- inferior: WITHDRAWN.
       He has specific standards and expectations, and treats all books alike -- and so the Bible does not go on the shelf of his favorites because:

He has read it before and considers it an excellent book, if only a better job of editing had been done, if only it didn't display the excesses of the novelist who is paid by the word.
       Lucio was also disappointed at the one librarians' convention he attended, disillusioned that he should be advised to classify books in any way other than whether they were good or bad -- and especially by whether they were fiction or non-fiction. Lucio has different ideas -- about the connection between literature and life, too. And he finds himself set apart from most others because:
Everybody looks for a happy ending, he says, his face beaming, to break with natural destiny, to avoid tragedy; they pursue the banal and insipid, the frothy and womanish: they refuse to make literature.
       Lucio's way of coming to terms with reality is by finding support in literature. Fortunately, there's always a story that fits the facts (as he decides to see them) -- so also with the death of the young girl, Anamari, who for him becomes the title-figure in the novel The Death of Babette.
       The police come to investigate, and Anamari's mother comes too. A scapegoat is found, and with it a resolution to the case -- though hardly one that Lucio would accept in a novel (he'd stamp it: WITHDRAWN). Knowing (parts of) the truth -- but also mixing in what he has read -- Lucio comes up with his own reality; like a reader of a book, he finds he can do little to influence any outcomes.
       The shifts between what Lucio is reading and his reality are not identified in the text (i.e. when he reads a passage, it is not printed in, for example, italics) because fiction and reality meld into one -- but because he understands the multi-layered complexity of any reality (and any good fiction) Toscana avoids the easy traps of this kind of writing.
       Toscana handles it all -- and especially Lucio's relationship with literature -- very well; coupled with the austere setting, an almost blank slate with only a few land-marks (an avocado tree, the Bibliote) and objects of any note, The Last Reader is a quite spell-binding read. Recommended.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 December 2009

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The Last Reader: Reviews: David Toscana: Other books by David Toscana under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author David Toscana was born in 1961.

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