Saturday, October 18, 2014

Review: Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos

Last summer I had booked a spa day at Mr B's, and it just so happened that on the same day they were hosting an Author Event, so I decided to book both, and read the author's first book Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos (JP) in preparation.  Mostly so I would have some clue as to what he's talking about... I figured if I didn't enjoy it I could always cancel going to the author event.  I thought it was great and got really excited about attending the session.  So anyway, here's a bit more about the book.  Article about the event to follow.

I thought it was a brilliant little book, a novella rather than a novel, but a great read.  I've borrowed the blurb from Goodreads, as I couldn't possibly have described it better:
Tochtli lives in a palace. He loves hats, samurai, guillotines and dictionaries, and what he wants more than anything right now is a new pet for his private zoo: a pygmy hippopotamus from Liberia. But Tochtli is a child whose father is a drug baron on the verge of taking over a powerful cartel, and Tochtli is growing up in a luxury hideout that he shares with hit men, prostitutes, dealers, servants and the odd corrupt politician or two.
I've never read anything that left me feeling so uncomfortable, but which I think is so completely excellent. It is a masterpiece of writing that can entertain (there's a lot of black humour) and deeply disturb you at the same time. I am not a writer, as you can plainly tell reading this, so I'm afraid I don't have the right words to express what this book made me feel.

The black humour serves as a device to drive home the point that Tochtli's world is vile and corrupt. His innocence, and acceptance of terrible violence as normal serves to highlight the horror of the world he lives in, and JP achieves this spectacularly well.
“It's like a competition: the one who wears the crown is the one who's made the most corpses.” 
Corpses are so commonplace and normal to Tochtli that you feel these words are delivered in the same way that people might say 'Dead bodies are just so last week'.  Corpses are just no big deal. Fodder for pet lions and nothing more.

Tochtli's exposure to the world is extremely limited.  He reads dictionaries and while he uses the terms literally his favourite words are awful.

The book is sensational in my opinion, and leaves a mark. I don't think I will ever forget reading it.

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