Review 1708: Leaving the Atocha Station

Adam Gordon is an American pursuing a project in Madrid in 2004. He only hints at the project’s purpose, but he spends most of his time taking drugs, visiting museums, and doing what he calls “translating,” in which he takes lines from other people’s works, substitutes words, and moves things around. He is supposed to be a poet on a grant to write a long poem about how the Spanish Civil War has affected poetry, but he is not doing any research and knows very little about Spanish poetry.

In fact, Adam lies almost all the time. He doesn’t consider himself a poet but a fraud. He is self-loathing and is constantly manipulating his face or thinking up things to say to seem deep. He talks about not feeling anything or experiencing the experience of the event rather than the event itself.

This novel, which seems more like a disguised memoir, is funny at times. It asks a lot of its audience intellectually, and at times I got lost in its logical circumlocutions. The narrator is not very likable, but he grows on you, and he undergoes a sudden transformation at the end.

Would I recommend this book? Only to certain people. I would like to say, though, that its cover design, which starts with snippets from The Garden of Earthly Delights on the right and then smears the colors of each snippet into a shape of a train, is fabulous.

This is a book I read for my James Tait Black Prize project.

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