Guest Post by Colm McKenna
Bonsai, Alejandro Zambra’s first novel feels like it is over before it has even begun. I read it this morning over two coffees. By the time I finished it, I had eight, largely monosyllabic notes scrawled across the front-end paper; more often than not, my comments will spill over onto the half-title page. That is not to say that there is little noteworthy in Zambra’s book. Moreso, it is indicative of a well-crafted, engrossing story, a story in which narrative takes absolute precedent.
I find myself falling into Zambra’s stories without the teething problems that even the most ardent reader sometimes confronts in the opening few pages of a book. There is a mediopassive effect to Zambra’s prose. I think this ease stems from his self-contained, self-referential narratives; we are made to know from the off that we need only dedicate our attention to once-lovers Julio and Emilia, and that the periphery characters exist here only insofar as they reveal our protagonists. Those others could be fleshed out; they all have their favorite books, their ambitions, and secrets; they all go on dates and fall in love, but these details are not of any concern to the story being told. The narrative itself stands over the world like something tangible; when characters move on from Julio and Emilia, they move away from the story that is being told. In this self-contained narrative, this distance is equivalent to dropping out of the world.
Bonsai: A Novel by Alejandro Zambra; translated by Megan McDowell. Penguin Books, August 2022.
Reviewer bio: Colm McKenna is a second-hand bookseller based in Paris. He has published and self-published an array of short stories and articles, hoping to eventually release a collection of stories. He is mainly interested in the works of John Cowper Powys, Claude Houghton, and a range of Latin American writers.