Octavio's Journey by Miguel Bonnefoy and Emily Boyce (translator)

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Octavio's Journey by Miguel Bonnefoy and Emily Boyce (translator)

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: I was grateful to see the magical side of Latin America this novella proffers, but I did want a more comprehensive guide at times.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 96 Date: March 2017
Publisher: Gallic Books
ISBN: 9781910477311

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Meet Octavio. He's a large lunk, a gentle giant, living alone in a lowly Venezuelan town – a town which once, fleetingly, had fame, fashion and success through a minor miracle, but has none any longer. Octavio, it seems, has some unusual habits – here he is, marching off to the chemist's with a table across his back, for it was all the doctor had at the time to write a prescription on. Now we never learn exactly what the cause of the prescription was, but we soon find out what the cause of the table is – Octavio cannot read, and has learned nothing beyond cutting into his palm to allow the wound to let him escape the need to write. Until, that is, a woman seems to suggest a way for him to learn to read and write, and to love – but that experience also proves to Octavio that there is a whole host of other things he can put his mind to, both for good, and for bad…

This is a very Latin American book – not what you'd immediately expect from a publisher of French titles. Not just in the Scrabble-master level vocabulary of all the fruits, trees and wildlife mentioned is in Latin, but in the feel of it all, the colours leaching off the page. It's also touching on their own literary form, that of magic realism, although speaking as one who doesn't like the genre I didn't find it prohibitively so. But chiefly it's a Latin American book through subject. We may see Octavio jump from one peculiar circumstance, one singular career and one lifestyle, to another, but throughout he remains Octavio – a well-meaning, broad-shouldered and tall character. Stately, you could say – even if he's not the character that actually is named after a country in these pages.

I found those different situations Octavio got himself into almost like a selection of linked short stories, at times – scenes threaded onto one cord called Octavio. This, it turns out, is quite an ironically-named book, where the roots you make and the person you find yourself becoming is more important than the journey and steps you fashion for your life. And I think, inasmuch as that moral is conveyed here for a Latin audience (and to repeat, there's no French spirit whatsoever), I did find it awkward to engage with at times. It's never as alien as, say, bagpipe music, but all the same, too often I found myself wondering if I was missing an allusion, being ignorant of a fragment of local legend, not seeing the native colour.

These definitely are colourful events, happenings and people, although I think one result of it being such a short read (ninety tight-packed pages, barring those few that burst into rapid dialogue) is that you don't get a strong sense of character. Even Octavio remained at one remove from me by the end – either that's down to the fable-like brevity of the scenes or that exotic barrier that stopped my full comprehension. What he certainly is, however, is quite likeable – principally for being our tour guide on this whistle-stop tour of a remote, seldom-touched-by-literature, and fully intriguing, but ultimately unfathomable, land.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson has taken us to Venezuela before, but it's a very different beast of a book.

Buy Octavio's Journey by Miguel Bonnefoy and Emily Boyce (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Octavio's Journey by Miguel Bonnefoy and Emily Boyce (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Octavio's Journey by Miguel Bonnefoy and Emily Boyce (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Octavio's Journey by Miguel Bonnefoy and Emily Boyce (translator) at Amazon.com.


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