The Skating rink is told through the successive narratives of three male characters, one a corrupt petty Gov't official, one a small town entrepreneur and the third a poet (the Bolano Character). The plot, as do the male characters, circle around a beautiful professional figure skater called Nuria, who has lost her place on the Spanish national team & in the process her training venue. The Gov't official obsessed with Nuria, steps in to save the day & with delusions of heroic worth, diverts Gov't money to fund the building of a secret skating rink in an abandoned villa, high up on the coast. Of all the novels by Bolano this is the closest to an out and out crime story, although seen through the lens of this particular writer, there is a murder, there are signposts alerting you along the way (the outline of a knife visible through clothing, the mental instability of one the characters etc.), and, although the murder is solved, when the body is found about two-thirds of the way through the book, it is almost an after thought. In this book there is no Detective, sleuthing away, the crime is mundane, an occurrence, there is no cry for justice, this is all about implication, or how to avoid it. The three men are not bothered by who has died, or how, just how it affects their lives. There's no honour here, no heroism that's not sullied by self interest, or self regard. So although this book features a death, someone is actually murdered, this merely acts as a spotlight onto the characters, making The Skating Rink a Detective tale where the crime is secondary to the protagonists involved.
This book had me puzzled, it reminded me of another book, and at first I thought it was Lawrence Durrell's " The Alexandria Quartet" which as a tetralogy offers us four perspectives via four novels on the same series of events. But that wasn't it. It was then I realised that it was a tale I'd read last year in Ryunosuke Akutagawa's Rashomon and 17 other stories, this tale "In the bamboo grove" concerns the murder of a traveller & the alleged rape of his wife, and is told through the differing perspectives of the various witnesses, all of who have their own agenda (including the deceased), yet with this story, there is blood and passion, which although it appears in the Skating Rink it's more theoretical. Yes the official obsesses over the skater, yet it's how it affects him, not her, that concerns him, and although the entrepreneur sleeps with Nuria, this seems to be more of a convenience between them both.
Whilst this book may start out wearing the garb of a crime thriller, it some how through the telling manages to twist and turn, as though it passes through some mirror and comes out with it's internal logic up ended. All we are left with is a vague and intense, unrealized longing. Whether this for some idealized past, or just some ideal, I don't know & that haunts.
If you have not read any Roberto Bolano before, and this is your first, your introduction to this writers work, you will enjoy this book, you will see glimpses of that spark, that lust for the written word, that you've heard so much about. I'm guessing you will be left slightly quizzical - sparks can, but don't necessarily, combust into a forest fire, words that merely lust for life can fade, can become jaded.Thankfully here this doesn't happen, hindsight allows us to look back and unlike Epimetheus* we are unlikely to trip, knowing full well what he goes on to write and what this book signposts admirably.