So this is the collected novellas about Maqroll the Lookout (a riverboat worker in Colombia) by the writer Alvaro Mutis. I got this either from a Little Free Library or paid a quarter at the public library, I don’t recall which, but it seems fortuitous, as the first novella was really interesting.
The Snow of the Admiral
This first novella, and I think the one that starts off the whole linked series involves Maqroll, a riverboat lookout, journaling his thoughts on a particular trip up river that lasts some three months. His job is mainly to look for dangers on the river as they make their way in country. It sounds a lot like Heart of Darkness in this way, and that’s not entirely off-base, but instead, it’s almost like an anti-Heart of Darkness. The journey is long and boring mostly, and while some various things happen, it’s not exactly a plot or a series of plotted events. Instead, it a chance for Maqroll to be alone with his thoughts, and like with all of us, that’s not always (or usually?) a good thing. So he thinks and thinks. He thinks about a woman he might love, but really wants to sleep with. He thinks about the people around him, and he thinks the days passing.
This is a book about time passing slowly. Sometimes I am bored at my job, like everyone, and some days I can feel every second pass. But even with my worst or most boring or least exciting job, I’ve never had a job in which there was almost zero line of boundary between life and work. So being on a boat, and having a specific set of tasks on that boats, and worse, always being in sight of land, seems like it would be especially hard to endure. So this book is an exploration of how that time slowly passes, the compromises one makes with oneself to get through that time, and what impact on health and mind that has when it’s all over.
Ilona Comes with the Rain
As I think about this second novella in the collection, there’s a bit of a shift from spending large amounts of time getting through something like a journey, and moving more into those spaces that are….hmmm, not anti-Democratic, but anti-Capital in some ways, but more so anti-teleological. There’s a real sense of time and society not mattering at all. I call this anti-capital because of the ways that capitalism really buys into grand narrative views of society (enlightenment thinking) as ever progressing toward this current situation. This is a false reading of reality, but not a false reading of how things move forward. It’s very American and Euro-centric thinking. So figures like Maqroll, are almost trickster figures pointing out how false these feel. So this second novella moves in that direction. I don’t know that that’s “what the novel is doing” per se, but I do think that as the novella explore the world of Maqroll, and especially as he’s not an underworld figure really, there’s this more subtle critique of those false structures.