Finally the final Maqroll story. In a way after reading the first three stories I had a feeling that the remaining ones wouldn’t be as great and I was right. By these standards then the last tale will be the weakest.
Well I would say both yes and no. The final novella is indeed a triptych of short stories about people who have been influenced or cursed by Maqroll. One is a Norwegian Captain, the other is a painter and the third focuses on Maqroll’s best friend Abdul Bashur’s son Jamil. The first two stories are ok but it’s the third one which tugs the heartstrings. You could say that it’s a sort of re telling of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. That is, it’s about two generations forming a bond and learning from each other. I loved this section so much that I closed the book with a grin on my face. At least it ended in style.
Overall I enjoyed these seven novellas (and the translation is brilliant), true some more than others but they did flesh out the character of Maqroll and make him very distinctive. You could say that he’s part Don Quixote with some Robin Hood mixed in for good measure. Maybe my only complaint would be that I would prefer reading the novellas separately than in one huge chunky novel but it’s a small complaint. I was very pleased to discover and read a part of South America’s literary heroes.
The penultimate Maqroll tale serves two functions. One is to tie up any loose ends Mutis has written about in the previous stories. For example we see what happened to Maqroll after he left Panama City (the tale is Illona comes with the Rain) , how the narrator and Maqroll’s best friend Abdul Bashur met and some facts about a couple of the adventures that Mutis lightly mentions in the older tales.
The second is to demonstrate the strong friendship between Maqroll and Bashur. Although they come from two different worlds they are inseparable and need each other to get away with their get rich quick schemes. In fact whenever Maqroll manages to weasel out some cash now and then he gives to Bashur so that he fulfills his one and only hobby, buying boats (which he sells later on due to his financial situations)
I’m on the last novella now and I feel that I’ll be finishing it in an hour or so.
Here we go!
The fifth Maqroll story is different from the previous ones. As we have seen these stories either take the form of a diary or narrated from the author. However a different tact is used and Maqroll is telling the narrator one of his more memorable adventures.
It also is the first Maqroll story not to take place on a boat. This time Maqroll recounts his days as a miner (we are given hints of this in the first book ‘The Snow of the Admiral’) As most Maqroll stories we have the romantic tryst and then the twist where he loses all his money. Amirbar (the name of the mine he chooses) also contains some clues on how Maqroll first met Flora, one of his favourite lovers.
On the whole it’s a good story but so far it’s hasn’t really topped ‘Un Bel Morir yet.
Onwards to story number six!
Typical! just as I thought that I had these stories all sussed out, Mutis throws a curveball of a story and changes my perspective of these novellas and admire Mutis for not following a formula. In this story Maqroll only plays a small role, a walk on role even.
The Tramp Steamer’s… is narrated by a person who is collecting stories on Maqroll. However on this occasion he is just attending a conference in Helsinki and he sees a Tramp Steamers and falls in love with it. A few years later he sees it again in Jamaica and again for a third time but it is in total ruins. Through luck the narrator bumps into the captain of the steamers and he discovers that Maqroll and his business partner Abdul Bashur gave it to him in order to take part with their shady business deals and ferry certain cargo to different islands. Also included in this scheme is Bashur’s sister Warda and she strikes a romance with the captain.
Essentially The Tramp… is a pure bona fide no frills love story and a well told one. Not mushy and sensual. Now whether this tale is just an interlude or part of a bigger whole we will see with the fifth novella.
The third tale of the Maqroll series is slightly different as it’s told from the third person. Other than that Un Bel Morir takes the Maqroll legend further as it creates links with the previous two novellas.
An aged Maqroll does not feel like travelling any longer so he stays put in a small village called La Plata. As what has been happening Maqroll soon gets swept up in a money-making scheme. He has to go to a remote mountain village to deliver railroad equipment.
Soon Maqroll discovers that he is actually caught in an illegal weapons trade and is arrested, being Maqroll everything is sorted out and he leaves La Plata in search for a new country and he is broke again.
In a way the Maqroll books follow a small formula Maqroll is poor , makes money, sleeps with a bombshell and then loses money. Despite this these stories are highly addictive and entertaining. Plus with each novella we get some more secrets about Maqroll’s past.
Onto book four!
The second novella out of the seven Maqroll tales is an improvement on the first and considering how much I loved it, that is saying something.
This time round Maqroll , through the suicide of one of his friends. has to land in Panama City and eke out an existence. After some bizarre occurrences in a hotel he bumps into a Hungarian woman called Ilona. Later on we find out that she has taken part in many shady deals with him in the past and since both are penniless they think of a new scheme to get rich quick.
Finally they succeed in setting up a ‘House of Assignation’ and get the girls to dress up as air hostesses. All goes well with some weird customers until Larissa walks into their midst and things take an even more bizarre turn.
What I’m liking about these novellas is that the bizarre and surreal happen but Mutis makes them completely believable, probably because he focuses more on the dark side of human perversions rather than surreal things happening due to the environment. Anyway so far they make up for fascinating reading.
As this book is actually a collection of seven novellas, I though it would be a good idea to write a short summary of each story and then another blog post on the volume as a whole.
For the uninitiated Maqroll is a bit of an unlucky character and yet he has a blessed life. He’s brainy, is impervious to diseases and occasionally gets to bed a good-looking woman. His problems start when he is thinking up of ways to make money.
The Snow of the Admiral is the first Maqroll story and I can see why there was a demand for more stories with this character as it’s absolutely fantastic.
Maqroll is one a barge with a mission : to go to some sawmills at the end of the jungle and sell some wood to the curvaceous owner Flora. The only drawback is that everyone on the ship is either drunk, a criminal or a loser. Not to mention that the jungle can be pretty sinister and make people insane.
By the end of this journey nothing is achieved and Maqroll returns empty-handed.
As this story goes, I laughed, loved Maqroll’s philosophical interjections and even some of the dream sequences are bizarre. I was reminded of Maupassant many times ans Mutis evokes the same kind of surrealistic terror.
As first steps go this one lifted my mood. Let’s see what the remaining one are like. …….