Por Dennis Haritou, Three Guys One Book

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You know what music built on a chromatic scale is like? I’m listening to some now. It’s dark, harsh, shadowy…gothic…or goth if you prefer. The traditional diatonic anchors of standard key signatures have been removed. There’s no reassuring return to C major because there is no C major in this scheme…just a perpetual floating between tonal worlds that seem to disappear as you try to grasp them, the attempt as futile as grasping at smoke.

That’s a good way to describe the overall atmosphere of The Antiquarian, a splendid neo-gothic tale. If the 19th century can produce Gothic novels then I guess what we can have is the neo-Gothic, a novel constructed with a self-conscious sense that we are overdue to have our skin crawl.

Is this a joke? Was Gustavo laughing as he has us wallow in the putrid, the perverse, the muddy, the foggy…a slag heap of pathological personalities? I enjoyed this.

Even the architecture of The Antiquarian is sick. Imagine the tale of a city built along the lines of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with an assist from the Orson Welles of Citizen Kane.  Patriau doesn’t believe in the linear, in storytelling or in urban design. The logo of “The Antiquarian” should be a spiral.

Central avenues continually curve until they fold in on themselves. Many of the characters are confined to an asylum consisting of a former private residence with a number of identical cubicle rooms. The institution is divided in half by an almost impenetrable wall which separates the violent patients from the more pacified. This doesn’t prevent the most sadistic acts from being committed on the so-called “safe” side of the wall.  Physical deformity is such a leitmotif of “The Antiquarian” that if you thought about it, you’d have to conclude that having a body is borderline repulsive.

Can you blame Daniel for wanting to isolate himself? It’s a wonder that he ever came to marry, to attractive and pathologically normal Juliana. His parents were astonished, and overjoyed, by the match. Previous to his nuptials Daniel has never even dated.

The overriding passion in Daniel’s life was the collection of obscure books. He’s a connoisseur of the wayward story. Of tales so esoteric that’s it’s as if you were being led away by a malevolent fairy to a neverland where plots never seem to reach a coda but trail on endlessly in a piling up of macabre details. Like I said, I enjoyed this. See if, under its apparent narrative confusion, you can discern a plan.

The Antiquarian by the near-impenetrable Gustavo Faveron Patriau is a Black Cat publication, an imprint of Grove Atlantic. If I were an antiquarian, I would want to collect this book. It’s the kind of read that alters your experience of reading. I sensed myself being trained to become a character in the novel as the best way to appreciate its offbeat perspective.