I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. It will be released 3 June 2014.
Picture the formation of a pearl. A small irritant gets inside an oyster shell and the oyster releases calcium carbonide to shield itself from the pain. Layers and layers build up over time as the oyster protects itself. As I read Gustavo Faverón Patriau’s The Antiquarian, I couldn’t shake the image of a pearl as I read the complicated tale of Daniel, his Julianas, and the mystery of what really happened when the women were killed. Patriau tells Daniel’s story in a series of waves, revealing a little more with each pass.
Our narrator, also named Gustavo, is a psycholinguist, specializing in understanding psychologically caused language problems. Three years after his college friend and book collector Daniel is incarcerated in a mental asylum in the middle of an unnamed city. Daniel was convicted of murdering his fiancee, Juliana, and is only in an asylum because his mother paid a lot of money to keep him out of prison. Gustavo has avoided him ever since. Daniel reaches out to his old friend with another inmate is strangled with pages of Daniel’s books.
At the beginning of The Antiquarian, there is little doubt that Daniel killed the Julianas and the woman known only as Huk. The evidence and Daniel’s own behavior make it likely. Daniel has always been a loner, a socially inept intellectual who collects bizarre stories and rare books. He used to stage elaborate, Gothic dramas with his sister that would culminate in ritually burning the sets. When he was young, his sister, Sofia, burned the house down. Daniel’s mind has been mentally polishing this event into a pearl ever since.
Patriau’s language is ornate, even Baroque. More than once I had to stop to look words up. The narrative seems to meander as Gustavo (the narrator) questions Daniel’s old friends and fellow inmates to find out what really happened, but everything is relevant. I’d recommend reading this novella in one or two sittings so that you don’t miss the associations, parables, motifs, and hints. There is so much about this novel to analyze: the twins, the spirals, the way events from the past show up in the mutterings of the insane people in the asylum. Reading The Antiquarian is being inside the mind of a highly literate, mentally untethered man with a dark secret.