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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Like a Fading Shadow

Antonio Muñoz Molina

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To purchase Like a Fading Shadow

Title: Like a Fading Shadow
Author: Antonio Muñoz Molina
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 312 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Like a Fading Shadow - US
Como la sombra que se va - US
Like a Fading Shadow - UK
Like a Fading Shadow - Canada
Comme l'ombre qui s'en va - France
Como la sombra que se va - España
  • Spanish title: Como la sombra que se va
  • Translated by Camilo A. Ramirez

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Our Assessment:

B+ : odd but quite impressive mix of a novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 20/12/2018 Michael Hofmann
El País . 22/11/2014 J.E.Ayala-Dip
The Spectator . 2/12/2017 Louis Amis
Sunday Times . 29/10/2017 David Mills
TLS . 21/3/2018 Jessica Loudis
World Lit. Today . 9-10/2015 Benjamin Bollig
World Lit. Today . 1-2/2018 Carson Schatzman

  From the Reviews:
  • "La novela es un ejercicio múltiple de ficción: implacable autointrospección, exposición de la teoría sobre la novela que defiende Muñoz Molina, una especie de making of de El invierno en Lisboa, una historia de amor y otra de desamor sin explicitar, un acto de expiación respecto a las víctimas colaterales que la empecinada vocación deja por el camino, una crónica casi policiaca sobre uno de los tres asesinatos más determinantes que se cometieron en Estados Unidos durante la década de los sesenta." - J.Ernesto Ayala-Dip, El País

  • "(T)he book is underwhelming, and somewhat redundant, in its claims for the power of literature – claims that undermine the story, diverting the narrative towards critics over readers, and breaking the spell of what would otherwise be a quietly moving memoir, or an impressive work of historical fiction. (...) Ramirez’s version sometimes lacks a racial undercurrent, which is in part a function of linguistic differences." - Jessica Loudis, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The novel thus mixes two almost incompatible genres. One is a taut true-crime tale. The other is a memoir about a bohemian author leaving his long-suffering wife for a pretty young journalist. The link between the two is the need to create fiction. Ray constantly reinvents himself, while Muñoz Molina invents others." - Benjamin Bollig, World Literature Today

  • "Muñoz Molina not only asserts that a novel is a state of mind; he makes his point by exploring the role of perspective in literature. By contrasting his experience of Lisbon against Ray’s, and embellishing the thoughts of his youth with the reflections of his present age, Molina invites us to witness the workings of literature -- of life understood by the novel." - Carson Schatzman, World Literature Today

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:

       Like a Fading Shadow pairs two very different stories in more or less alternating chapters. One narrative strand is the story of Martin Luther King Jr.-assassin James Earl Ray, focusing in particular on his time as a fugitive in Europe after the assassination. The other is Muñoz Molina's first-person account, of his own life and writing.
       The Portuguese capital, Lisbon, is the major point of overlap Muñoz Molina focuses on, devoting considerable space to his and Ray's experiences there, as Ray spent just over a week in Lisbon in 1968, while Muñoz Molina traveled there for a few days in 1987, a young husband, father, and would-be writer looking to collect background material for a novel (what would become Winter in Lisbon). Writing a quarter of a century later, as he has immersed himself in the now accessible Ray-material -- the extensive and now readily-available files ("It only takes a few seconds to access the archives containing detailed accounts of almost everything he did, places he visited, crimes he committed", etc.) -- he reflects on Ray, on writing -- about oneself and about others --, and on the changes in his life.
       The Ray-sections closely follow the assassin, especially in his time on the run. Muñoz Molina looks back, too -- to snippets of Ray's terrible childhood conditions, his youth, first incarceration, escape, and, eventually, the actual assassination itself (as well as Ray's alternative explanation, with the imaginary 'Raoul' sending him on his missions) -- but most of his account is devoted to Ray on the run in Europe.
       There's fascinating detail here, from the ease with which Ray travels with a gun, even on international flights, or got his passport (complete with misspelling of his fake name, which doesn't particularly perturb any of the authorities either). Muñoz Molina captures a desperate man, his money running out, with an almost haphazard plan of escape -- maybe to Africa ? -- closely following the newspapers and the FBI most wanted list while passing unrecognized. Ray is not always memorable -- certainly trying to avoid that while he's on the run, avoiding eye contact where possible and the like -- but he is a distinctive figure almost everywhere he goes. He spends almost his entire life out of place -- most obviously so as the well-dressed man staying in the dingiest dives he can in the United States.
       Muñoz Molina's account isn't purely documentary, but the elaboration into fiction is fairly restrained, strongly anchored in the known facts (and acknowledging possible variations where the facts are less certain). Muñoz Molina has a great deal of precise information to work with: if not quite every step Ray took, most of them are covered. It does make for fascinating, disturbing reading, with parts that seem almost too bizarre for fiction.
       The personal counterpart-story, Muñoz Molina's, is the more believable mundane one, beginning with his descriptions of himself as a young government worker, intent on writing, struggling with his first book, married but obviously in a relationship that isn't very tightly bound (and collapses within a few years). At the time of his Lisbon-trip in 1987 he was still immature, playing the part of an adult but not the least bit comfortable in the role:

I was about to turn thirty-one and I was still an overgrown adolescent, a spy trapped in my public identity as a bureaucrat, a married man, and married by the church, father of two children; undercover, but was I infiltrating the underworld or City Hall ...
       Muñoz Molina is more guarded about details in his personal life, even as reveals his own insecurities and the shaky ground his marriage is on when he heads off to Lisbon. So, for example, he describes, in some painful detail, his unacceptable behavior when he returns, too -- going carousing with friends and blowing off his wife without even the courtesy of a call -- but doesn't reveal what the immediate domestic fallout was. Indeed, there are very few domestic scenes at all, as Muñoz Molina's personal accounts are very self-centered and tend to focus on his writing efforts.
       Yet Like a Fading Shadow is also -- in a sliver of its parts -- a love letter, describing his meeting his true love, the woman he apparently left his wife for -- addressing some of these parts of the novel directly to her, writing not to 'her' but to 'you'. A present-day trip to Lisbon also has him meet with his now grown son, who is living there with a girlfriend at the time, but only hints at some of what transpired twenty years earlier, when the parents divorced.
       Like a Fading Shadow is very much a novel in which the author engages with the act of writing, particularly in dealing with one's own personal demons, as well as others' demons. The opening lines have Muñoz Molina already confuse himself with his subject-object:
     I awake inside his mind; frightened, disoriented from so much reading and researching.
       He repeatedly makes strong pronouncements about writing and literature -- often of what's already implicit in the text and his approach. So, for example:
Literature is the desire to dwell inside the mind of another person, like an intruder in a house, to see the world through someone else's eyes, from the interior of those windows where no one ever seems to peek out. It's impossible but one does not renounce the optical illusion.
       And he argues:
The highest aspiration of literature is not to improve an amorphous matter of real events through fiction, but to imitate the unpremeditated, yet rigorous, order of reality, to create a scale model of its forms and process.
       Near the conclusion of the novel, Muñoz Molina introduces a third perspective, that of Martin Luther King Jr.. Until then, the assassinated man does not figure prominently, with almost none of the Ray-sections concerned with the victim, whether the reasons why he was targeted (beyond Ray's visceral racism) or the consequences of his assassination; indeed, an eerie part of Like a Fading Shadow is the almost parallel universe, in which there is so little visible fallout from the assassination, in which Ray seems to move after the fact (in no small part because he is so removed from the consequences -- an ocean away, for the most part). Still, the King Jr. section is a somewhat jarring near-final twist to a novel whose focus otherwise is so intently elsewhere.
       Like a Fading Shadow very effectively presents Ray's life on the run (and what led up to it) in a strong, disturbing character-portrait. Alongside that, Muñoz Molina presents himself less surely -- on purpose, in part, since much of what he presents is that younger, unsure self trying to become a writer, finding himself in the wrong job and marriage before things fall into place for him.
       Muñoz Molina's approach makes for an interesting exercise in fiction -- so close to the edge of the purely confessional and documentary, and yet still turned into something more than that.
       Occasionally numbing, occasionally frustrating -- especially in what is withheld in the personal accounts -- Like a Fading Shadow is nevertheless largely successful and even quite powerful

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 July 2017

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Like a Fading Shadow: Reviews: Antonio Muñoz Molina: Other books by Antonio Muñoz Molina under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Antonio Muñoz Molina was born in 1956.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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