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At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón – review

For The Guardian:

An engaging story of love and imprisonment in Peru is let down by its narrator

Donna Tartt recently described the process of writing a novel as like “painting a large mural with a brush the size of an eyelash”. My own favourite is that it’s like trying to fill a swimming pool with a syringe. Or, in a different mood, that writing a novel is like trying to hold a vast and intricate maths equation in your head that seeks to represent reality and through which you are trying to lead people without them ever getting wind that said equation is, in fact, impossible to solve or that, actually, it might not represent reality at all. Hold that last thought a moment and we’ll come back to it.

Daniel Alarcón has been blessed and cursed by appearing on one of those literary lists – the New Yorker’s “20 under-40 young writers who capture the inventiveness and vitality of contemporary American fiction”. Though he moved to America when he was very young, Alarcón was born in Peru, which is where At Night We Walk in Circles is set.

The novel tells two main stories. First, there is Nelson, a young actor living in Lima. His ex-girlfriend, Ixta, is now with an intensely pedestrian man called Mindo – but she and Nelson have been conducting an affair, which she (mostly) wants to end: “You don’t stop loving someone like Nelson … You just give up.”

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