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Juan Carlos Márquez – Tangram

Book Cover

Not what you thought.

Publisher: Nevsky Books (Ediciones Nevsky)
Pages: 162
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-8-494-59133-4
First Published: 2011; December 2016 in English
Date Reviewed: 2nd May 2017
Rating: 4/5

Original language: Spanish
Original title: Tangram
Translated by: James Womack

Two men visit an ex-actress in order to network but find themselves locked in her basement for weeks. A man looking to commit a crime finds it difficult to do so when his targets turn out to be suicidal. A group of children take to calling names in the belief that people will change if they hear the truth. These stories, together with a few others, make up the details of what could be different narratives or one whole.

Tangram is a short thriller which makes use of fractured storytelling in order to keep you thinking and surprise you at the end.

Carlos Márquez’s use of fractured narrative means that for a good while, until the story starts to cycle round and come together, it could be said you’re reading a short story collection. Stories, linked by a vague theme, suggest something far from a novel-length piece, but as it turns out, the writing and structure is absolutely key to this book, which is interesting because the necessity of the writing is apparent very early on, but more in the sense that you can appreciate it rather than anything further.

The author uses writing – first person, particular types of phrasing and cracks in the fourth wall – to dig deep into the details of his characters’ stories. The author looks at the whole, of course, but it’s almost whimsical – he places a lot of importance on the ending, on getting it right, but he’s so focussed on each character that the book darts back and forth neatly – is this a literary novel or is it genre thriller? At heart, it’s both. In view of the translation, you can see Carlos Márquez’s words underneath Womack’s text, the author’s concepts and workings remaining clear. Footnotes have been included in places where to translate in-text, so to speak, would have slowed the pace.

There is a bit of humour in the book, a thread that makes you wonder before revealing itself fully. It is slight, very slight, and fits the writing wonderfully.

The ending pulls everything together… well, almost – but almost is the point. You’ll discover (likely, at least, unless you’ve somehow figured out where it’s going and I’d guess in this case that’s not likely) that some of what you’ve read isn’t important but that it wasn’t quite a red herring. You’ll discover that some things you thought important were, and those things tend to be the things you’d later decided were probably red herrings. You’ll discover that the things you did think were red herrings were indeed red herrings and that the author included them fully hoping you’d see them as red herrings.

And the ending may come as a shock because it’s really not what everything seemed to be building up to… until you’re reading the ending and working your way backwards. It’s fair to say appearances may be deceptive and the most crafty person in this situation isn’t any of the characters but the author himself.

This isn’t a book about witnesses or suspects, rather it’s a book about people who happen or happened to be in some way affiliated with the people involved at the core of the story. Reading it is a little like playing Cluedo, only with less of an exact sense of where you’re headed; and keeping a check-list of the people you’ve met so far wouldn’t be much help because the author isn’t telling.

The page count is perfect – you wouldn’t want this any longer or shorter, partly due to the effect the details have where you wonder how much information is relevant. Best read for its technique, Tangram is an award winning book and it’s not hard to see why.

I received this book for review.

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May 3, 2017, 2:56 am

This sounds intriguing. I sometimes find stories like this hard to read, but there’s so much satisfaction when everything comes together in the end. Definitely the kind of book I prefer in “real” form rather than digital.

Tracy Terry

May 4, 2017, 5:01 pm

Not an author I’ve found to be to my taste but then perhaps I haven’t delved enough into their writing.

So good to be back with you, to be able to continue you with With What’s In A Name. Thank you for your kind comment during my recent stay in hospital.

Jenny @ Reading the End

May 5, 2017, 1:20 am

Hmmmm, okay, I don’t typically like novels that are more like short stories, but I DO like dipping my toe in the waters of slightly experimental fiction. So I will give it a go!

Juan Carlos Márquez

May 6, 2017, 1:06 pm

Hello, I’m Juan Carlos Márquez. Thank you very much.


May 10, 2017, 10:04 am

Kelly: Yes, it does come together at the end. Have you read Sara Taylor’s The Shore? The storytelling is rather like that, though in Tangram the threads are more tied together. It would be better in paperback than ebook I expect – it’s one you want to flip through.

Tracy: Happy to see you back and blogging! This is a fractured narrative so possibly quite akin to his short stories (I’ve not read them) but definitely worth considering.

Jenny: They are short stories but only up to a point; as I said to Kelly, think The Shore only less fractured.

Juan: Glad you liked it. All the best for your next book!



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