For The Guardian


This is a tricky novel to review. I’m not even sure it is a novel. And I’m not certain as to whether its fragmentary nature belies an organic structure of astutely sewn intention or is merely a disingenuous device to conceal a let’s-get-something-out cobbling together of unpublished material lying around the writer’s desk. What I can tell you is this: I was powerfully engaged and richly entertained by Personae.

Some brief background: a few months ago, Sergio De La Pava was awarded the prestigious PEN prize for his debut novel, A Naked Singularity, which he self-published in 2008. His work has, therefore, adorned many a told-you-so banner in the great forward march of internet publishing, where he has been championed as literary fiction’s answer to the delirious smutathon that is EL James. For the record, De La Pava lives in New York where he is a lawyer appointed to represent people who cannot afford to hire lawyers. He is of Colombian heritage and cultivates something of an outsider persona: “Sergio De La Pava”, says the jacket, “still does not live in Brooklyn.”

But let’s get back to the work. A reductive summary of Personae might describe it as a postmodern text that begins with the investigation of an “unnatural” death by a preternaturally intelligent and attractive concert pianist turned police detective, Helen Tame. (De La Pava is forever playing with fiction’s types and tropes as well as its form.) The body belongs to an elderly unknown writer, Antonio Acre, who has been discovered on the floor of his apartment aged 111. Tame finds what remains of Acre’s notebook and tells us that it “can be seen as a kind of warming up to [his] subsequent works that form the greater part of [her] report”.