Ow. It's starting to hurt now. The fourth part of the journey is almost as long as the three before it put together and from the first sentence it is clear things aren't going to be pleasant (well, the title is another clue, obviously)
The girl's body turned up in a vacant lot in Colonia Las Flores. She was dressed in a white long-sleeved T-shirt and a yellow knee-length skirt, a size too big.
In Santa Teresa (standing in for the real-life town of Ciudad Juarez) the bodies of women and young girls are found with alarming frequency, broken and abandoned in the desert. Is it the work of a serial killer or killers? What we have here is a police procedural. With forensic detail and over almost 300 pages we 'meet' the many victims, with the repetitive, monotonous prose of police bureaucracy. The clinical delivery of these macabre findings has a numbing effect, much like the boring detail contained within American Psycho, so that they soon become less and less shocking and, worryingly, more and more acceptable. There are many characters to get a handle on (but with Bolaño you never know on meeting someone whether they will be significant or never heard from again) including one of the detectives assigned first to a case involving a man they call 'the Penitent', wanted after desecrating a church and then murdering a priest. The diagnosis of Elvira Campos, director of the asylum, is sacrophobia ('fear or hatred of the sacred, of sacred objects, especially from your own religion') which links back to the discussion about the end of the sacred from part three. Whilst she reels off a list of phobias she alights on one which is significant I think to the novel as a whole.
...Or gynophobia, which is fear of women, and naturally afflicts only men. Very widespread in Mexico, although it manifests itself in different ways. Isn't that a slight exaggeration? Not a bit: almost all Mexican men are afraid of women. I don't know what to say to that, said Juan de Dios Martinez.
He will go on to show his own fear when a relationship develops between the two of them but always on her terms (much like the ménage in part one)
The list of phobias isn't the only time I found my eyes wanting to skim a little. The back story of a TV seer, La Santa, doesn't add much to a character who raves on TV about the killings without furthering our knowledge of them. Similarly, the lineage of a young boy who becomes a cop was a bit like trawling through the 'and so-and-so begat so-and-so' pages of the Old Testament. Bolaño is known for subverting convention and it is a strange experience to read a crime thriller which isn't thrilling and which leaves you no clearer as to who the killer(s) might be. This refusal to play by the rules is fine as long as you intend to replace what should be there with something else. It's just that at the moment I'm not quite sure what that thing is. This 'undercutting' which I have mentioned before happens again when a female Governor whose friend has gone missing in Santa Teresa finally brings some passion to the proceedings, only to have them negated by the private detective she has hired.
Do you mean you think Kelly is dead? I shouted. More or less, he said without losing his composure in the slightest. What do you mean, more or less? I shouted. For fuck's sake, you're either dead or you're not! In Mexico a person can be more or less dead, he answered very seriously. I stared at him, wanting to hit him. What a cold detached man he was. No, I said, almost hissing, no one can be more or less dead, in Mexico or anywhere else in the world. Stop talking like a tour guide. Either my friend is alive, which means I want you to find her, or my friend is dead, which means I want the people who killed her. Loya smiled. What are you laughing at? I asked him. The tour guide part was funny, he said.
I'm not sure what I'm searching for in this book, but I'm beginning to worry that despite still having over 250 pages to go I may never find it.