An experimental, auto-fictional novel from the author of The Sound of Things Falling. When a man is arrested at a museum for attempting to steal the bullet-ridden suit of a murdered Colombian politician, few notice. But soon this thwarted theft takes on greater meaning as it becomes a thread in a widening web of popular fixations with conspiracy theories, assassinations, and historical secrets; and it haunts those who feel that only they know the real truth behind these killings.
...[a] clever, labyrinthine, thoroughly enjoyable historical novel ... Ironic one moment, earnest the next, Vásquez presents himself as the central character of his own book. We learn about his career as a novelist, the state of his marriage, the birth of his daughters; we learn to be uncertain about what is fiction and what is not, what’s history and what’s debatable ... Even at their most grotesque or bloodstained or slyly comic, these anecdotes and observations retain their humanity. Vásquez assembles them into a discursive, mischievous autofiction, combining forensic medicine with hearsay, revealing a third-hand source behind a first-hand account, setting public memory against private, chatter against documentation, until The Shape of the Ruins is less an album of stickers than a comprehensive critique of conspiracy aesthetics.
The Shape of the Ruins might try your patience. The wandering can be a challenge, and its structure takes a long time to cohere. Though each of the novel's sub-stories echoes and influences the rest, they still feel sub-. You will still wonder when you get to return to the present day, to Vásquez and his cranky muse, and that wondering sometimes slows the book down. In those moments, you will be thankful for Vásquez's faultless prose. Be thankful for his translator, Anne McLean, too. She's worked with Vásquez on all his official novels, and is so talented she might be psychic. In her English iteration, The Shape of the Ruins moves forward with gravitational pull. Move with it. The novel's many fake-outs, its resets and restarts, are worthwhile.
Like the assassination of John F. Kennedy 15 years later, the brazen killing of Gaitán has forever been wrapped in a shadowy aura of conspiracy theories that swirl around the notion that Roa Sierra was either a pawn in a wider plot or was not the real killer. The long-lingering questions and breathless speculation about Gaitán’s assassination form the framework of The Shape of the Ruins, a sweeping and magisterial novel by master Colombian storyteller Juan Gabriel Vásquez ... The book might easily have settled into the conventions of police procedurals or political thrillers. But Vásquez, whose previous novels have delved into his country’s drug wars and the secret world of Nazi informers in Colombia, takes those forms deeper, examining the nature of truth, the resilience of historical narratives and the subtleties of human obsession.