Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 2, 2010

The Skating Rink

DSC00375by Roberto Bolaño – Translated by Chris Andrews

I brought this book home from my library in December, as part of my stack of books for the Dec. 5th read-a-thon. I never got to it, but I found that I couldn’t forget about it either so I checked it out again a few days ago and read it in two afternoons.

There is something wonderfully compelling about the image of a figure skater, gracefully circling an ice rink made from an old swimming pool, in a cavernous room of an abandoned palace, with seating for imaginary fans provided by packing crates tumbled round. The skater is Nuria, a woman who’s beauty all the world’s adjectives fall short of describing. A fat man sits nearby, watching her. Another man, somewhere in the Spanish seaside city of Z, dreams of her next visit to his hotel room. Yet another man seems to spy on her from the shadows, but is in fact watching another woman, a women who has a large knife tucked into her skirt. Even though music plays, a breathless silence suffocates and it seems that the only noise is the scraping of the skates upon the ice…

This book is, in simple terms, a crime novel, a whodunit. This is Bolaño, though, so nothing is simple. He takes a recognized formula and sets it on fire, not to destroy it, but to bring before your eyes all the depth and color of the flames.

The three narrators that Bolaño uses to tell his brief and violent love story are incredibly well drawn. When I was reading The Savage Detectives I was amazed at his ability to bring over four dozen characters to life with just a quick sketch – in The Skating Rink that skilled pen marks the page with heavy strokes and the three men that he conjures up seem to be sitting in the chair opposite of you, speaking directly to you. You feel as though you should offer them a drink – coffee or cognac? They had beating, complex, imperfect hearts.

I wouldn’t say that I loved this book, but I certainly was entertained and challenged once again by Bolaño. Compared to the last book I read that you could call crime fiction – Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move (and it’s so odd that I nearly read both of these books on the same day…!) – this was far more satisfying, and it is an incredibly good example of what a talented author can really do with such a seemingly worn out genre. Bravo once again Bolaño.


  1. Oooh, more Bolaño. I just read about another Bolaño on Richard’s blog too! My TBR list just got bigger.

  2. “They had beating, complex, imperfect hearts.”

    What a beautiful, evocative line!

    Basically, I must, must, MUST read more Bolaño. Thanks for giving me a nudge; this sounds like a great little shot of him. 🙂

  3. With the whole of the Bolano catalog rolling out in English translation due to the popularity of 2666, we have a lot to enjoy it seems. I actually own this book and have been trying to make time for it. I loved the way you described part of the setting too. Also trying to make time for Monsieur Pain.

    • I do kind of feel compelled to read whatever Bolaño I can find at this point, although for some reason I’m afraid of 2666. So whatever ELSE I can find. Maybe when I’m done reading Proust I’ll try 2666. 🙂

  4. […] feel to these poems that digs deeper than what I’ve experienced with The Savage Detectives or The Skating Rink. There’s an autobiographical element to all of Bolaño’s work, but in these poems he […]

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