The as­sas­sin van­ishes

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - NEWS - Re­view by Sean Bell DAMIEN LOVE’S GUIDE TO THIS WEEK’S BEST TELE­VI­SION

IN Like A Fad­ing Shadow – first pub­lished in Spain in 2014, now ben­e­fit­ing from a gor­geous English trans­la­tion – An­to­nio Muñoz Molina tack­les three in­ter­linked nar­ra­tives like a man play­ing three in­stru­ments si­mul­ta­ne­ously. As with such a feat, the skill he ex­hibits ap­pears al­most im­pos­si­ble.

There is that of James Earl Ray, known to his­tory as the as­sas­sin of Martin Luther King Jr, a strange, sad, self-de­luded man whose life has been one long, in­co­her­ent cat­a­logue of des­per­a­tion. Lis­bon is the point of con­nec­tion be­tween nar­ra­tive strands; Ray spent a week in the city dur­ing 1968 while on the run for King’s mur­der, while Molina ended up in Por­tu­gal’s cap­i­tal as a young writer in 1987, re­search­ing what would be­come his break­through novel. Fi­nally, there is the mod­ern Molina, por­ing through records of Ray’s life while re­flect­ing on his own.

Like A Fad­ing Shadow not only breaks bound­aries – join­ing the novel, mem­oir, his­tory and bi­og­ra­phy in such a nat­u­ral and unas­sum­ing fash­ion, the stitch­ing is in­vis­i­ble – but also many of the rules that more self-in­dul­gent writ­ers re­quire to dis­ci­pline them­selves. It is, as much as any­thing else, that spec­tre which count­less cre­ative writ­ing teach­ers have warned against, a book about its own writ­ing. It is also fur­ther proof as to why those teach­ers are of­ten wrong.

As a writer, Molina in­ter­ro­gates him­self and the lit­er­ary project he has em­barked upon far more than his crim­i­nal sub­ject, and the re­wards for do­ing so are plen­ti­ful. The re­sul­tant work al­ter­nates be­tween a spar­ing em­ploy­ment of nov­el­is­tic tech­niques, and a foren­sic ques­tion­ing of fic­tion it­self. Metafic­tion, so of­ten cheaply and in­ex­pertly ap­plied else­where, shows its tremen­dous power in Molina’s hands.

Like A Fad­ing Shadow re­minds the reader of other great books, but only in ways that con­firm its own dis­tinc­tive­ness. Al­ready, Molina’s hy­brid has in­spired com­par­isons with Li­bra, Don DeLillo’s spec­u­la­tive, post­mod­ern el­egy for JFK as­sas­sin Lee Har­vey Oswald, which sim­i­larly

re­sisted ro­man­ti­cis­ing or psy­cho­analysing its in­fa­mous sub­ject, but lacked Molina’s am­bi­tion.

In the sev­eral ver­sions of him­self that in­habit the ex­posed me­chan­ics of Molina’s fic­tion, there is more than a hint of the poet Fer­nando Pes­soa, another Lis­bon res­i­dent; yet Molina, how­ever re­luc­tantly, has an at­tach­ment to the world Pes­soa sought to sever. Echoes of James Ell­roy can be found in the terse, stac­cato ac­counts of Ray’s trav­els and ec­cen­tric­i­ties, his in­ner life haunt­ing the end­less de­tails culled from Molina’s moun­tain­ous re­search, but Molina – per­haps due to his Span­ish na­tion­al­ity – lacks Ell­roy’s ob­ses­sion with the char­ac­ter of the United States, pre­fer­ring that of hu­man in­di­vid­u­als. In per­spec­tive, style and even its un­der­stated hu­mour, Like a Fad­ing Shadow is a re­ward­ingly un-Amer­i­can book.

Molina has no in­ter­est in turn­ing a fun­da­men­tally unim­pres­sive mur­derer into a mythic, larger-than-life fig­ure, nor does he seek to make him­self the hero of his own story. His in­ten­tion, won­der­fully vin­di­cated, is to show that the mean­ing of sto­ries them­selves, be they true or fic­tional, are best demon­strated in the telling.

Like A Fad­ing Shadow by An­to­nio Muñoz Molina

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