Monday, 21 December 2009

Nine Nights by Bernardo Carvalho

Nine Nights was a random library pick, and as much as I can't think why I picked it up in the first place, I'm also finding it very difficult to write about! I finished it a few weeks ago, and although I've been thinking about it since then, I still can't produce many coherent thoughts about it. I'm only writing this now because it has to go back to the library tomorrow so it won't be sat staring at me reminding me I need to write about it!

The book centres around a young ethnologist, Buell Quain, who went off on an expedition to Brazil to learn about the Kraho tribe of Indians. But during his time out there, something affected him so deeply, he committed suicide, leaving a series of suicide notes for his friends and family, all contradicting each other, so it is never clear why he did what he did. One said he was ill, one said he had been betrayed and other similar life changing events. However, although this event is central to the story, it's not really what the book is about. The book is narrated by a man who is trying to discover the truth about this suicide, and it has become an obsession to him. He believes there was an eighth letter which will give the truth of the events, and it is this he is determined to find.

Our narrator is clearly obsessed with this man, although it is not until the end of the book that we discover why, and this itself throws light on the sanity of the narrator and how much of what he believes is fiction. In fact, the line between fact and fiction makes up a large part of the theme of this book. The narrator himself does everything you would expect of someone trying to discover the truth, and more, but it is clear he is never going to discover the truth, if it is even there to be found. In fact the only first hand account the narrator has, which is interspersed in segments throughout the novel, finishes by saying

"What I'm telling you is a combination of what he told me and what I have imagined, and so in the same way, I'll let you imagine everything I can't bring myself to tell you."

From the information our narrator managed to piece together, it is clear that Quain immersed himself totally in the lives of the tribe he was studying, and it is implied that it was something he did, or that happened to him that affected his mental state but just as the narrator thinks he may be coming close, it all slips away from him again. We never really find out what happened to Buell Quain, and the book feels just as foggy at the start as it did at the beginning. The first page does sort of leave a clue for this though, when it says

"You are entering a place where truth and lies no longer have the meanings they had outside, just ask the Indians. Anything. Whatever crosses your mind. And tomorrow, when you wake up, ask them again. And then the day after tomorrow. Each time the same question. And every day you'll get a different answer. the truth is lost among all the contradictions and absurdities."

Foggy is a good word for how I felt on finishing this book. And it still feels like I'm writing this through a fog. I don't know if that's how it was supposed to feel, or if I just didn't get it, but I suspect it's the latter. Having said that, I enjoyed reading it, I just think there was so much about it I didn't pick up on!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like an interesting read, although I'm not sure about reading a book that's *foggy*.

One does wonder though... why would seven suicide notes conflict each other!