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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Down the Rabbit Hole

Juan Pablo Villalobos

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To purchase Down the Rabbit Hole

Title: Down the Rabbit Hole
Author: Juan Pablo Villalobos
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 73 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Down the Rabbit Hole - US
Fiesta en la madriguera - US
Down the Rabbit Hole - UK
Down the Rabbit Hole - Canada
Down the Rabbit Hole - India
Dans le Terrier du Lapin Blanc - France
Fiesta in der Räuberhöhle - Deutschland
Fiesta en la madriguera - España
  • Spanish title: Fiesta en la madriguera
  • Translated by Rosalind Harvey
  • With an Introduction by Adam Thirlwell

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sordid circumstances, described with childish innocence

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 12/11/2011 Ángel Gurría-Quintana
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . 16/7/2011 Wolfgang Schneider
The Guardian . 13/9/2011 Nicholas Lezard
The Independent . 16/9/2011 Lucy Popescu
Página 12 . 22/8/2010 Fernando Bogado
Wall Street Journal . 12/10/2012 Sam Sacks
Die Welt . 30/4/2011 Ulrich Baron

  From the Reviews:
  • "His nonchalant observations, both accurate and detached from the facts by his age, are devastating. The plot is slight." - Ángel Gurría-Quintana, Financial Times

  • "We have here a control over the material which is so tight it is almost claustrophobic (and novelists really like constricted spaces). It is just as well it is only 70-odd pages long. I mean that as a compliment." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "Through carefully constructed, satirical prose, deftly translated by Rosalind Harvey, Villalobos illustrates how prolonged exposure to violence desensitises people and the ease with which the grotesque can be normalised." - Lucy Popescu, The Independent

  • "Más cercano a la investigación que a la producción literaria, residiendo en Barcelona, el autor logra construir un discurso infantil lo suficientemente depurado, mínimo, que hace las veces de esta pequeña herramienta destinada a desarmar secretos, la mejor crítica a la actualidad política mexicana, latinoamericana, en líneas generales, sin por eso jugar a ser vanguardista por elegir a un narrador poco prototípico." - Fernando Bogado, Página 12

  • "Mr. Villalobos cleverly overlaps reality with surreality as the King's paranoid delusions become indistinguishable from Tochtli's earnest fantasia." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "Seine Wirklichkeit bekommt er damit nicht in den Griff. Als Leser aber kann man ihm über die schmalen Schultern schauen und bekommt so eine desillusionierende Homestory aus dem finsteren Herzland des lateinamerikanischen Machismo präsentiert." - Ulrich Baron, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Down the Rabbit Hole is narrated by a young boy, Tochtli, whose father, Yolcaut, is an enormously successful Mexican drug kingpin. While Yolcaut has made extraordinary amounts of money, his business does impose certain limitations on their lives: they live in a well-secured 'palace', far from anywhere, and they rarely leave it; Tochtli isn't able to attend school, for example. As a consequence, Tochtli has little social interaction with anyone aside from those who work with or for his father; he only knows "maybe thirteen or fourteen people" -- or a few more, if you're willing to count the dead ones.
       Tochtli is a precocious young lad, but still young and naïve enough to accept the bizarreness and random brutality of his father's world without questioning it. He uses big words ("Every night before I go to sleep I read the dictionary") and expresses himself well -- convenient for a narrator in a story written for adults -- yet his critical faculties are obviously still underdeveloped.
       Tochtli's tutor is Mazatzin, who dreamed of becoming a writer and is a Japanophile -- even going so far as to call Tochtli, whose name means 'rabbit' in Nahuatl, 'Usagi', which is the Japanese for rabbit. The one possible figure that can offer a corrective to the bizarro-world in which Tochtli is being raised, Mazatzin ultimately fails him. At a decisive point Mazatzin: "pretended I didn't exist" -- hoping to protect the boy in that way. But Tochtli is, and remains, undeniably part of this strange drug-lord world; Mazatzin's flailing efforts barely make a dent.
       Tochtli has a thing for hats, but also has his heart set on something grander: dad already has some exotic animals in their private zoo -- including a lion and two tigers -- but what Tochtli really wants is a Liberian pygmy hippopotamus. Eventually, indulgent (and rich) dad decides to try to please the kid, and even sends him off to the source -- Liberia -- to try to get one of the animals. The expedition is a limited success; while ultimately even the grandest dreams can be realized in this world of big money and complete ruthlessness, what they're left with is the rather hollow trappings of success, rather than true satisfaction.
       Tochtli babbles happily along, even as he is occasionally overwhelmed by the brutality of the world around him and the unstable atmosphere; the loving dad tries to protect the kid in some ways, but this is obviously not an environment in which to raise a child. On the one hand Tochtli is tremendously bored -- but the dangers of dad's business also provide entirely too much that's cause for concern in the background. Tochtli also tries to live up to dad's macho ideals, but can only do so in a childish manner.
       Many of the people surrounding Tochtli are mute, or at least remain largely mute. Saying too much can be dangerous (and one character does get out a lot more than he should at one point, in a major betrayal) -- but muteness is also a means of escape and avoidance. Even Tochtli withdraws into it, putting on a brave face and in part suggesting it's a form of 'silent treatment' for his dad disappointing him, but there's little question that it's also simply the result of trauma.
       The household is a perverse place, with limited stability and many confusing messages for the young boy. He sees and overhears a great deal, and adjusts it to his evolving worldview, but life there is, indeed, like falling into the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.
       By using such a young innocent as his narrator, Villalobos give the violence here an almost cartoonish quality; among the games Tochtli plays with his father, for example, is one where: "One person says a number of bullets in a part of the body, and the other answers: alive, corpse, or too early to tell." Yolcaut has created his own fantasy-land, complete with exotic animals, and with little exposure to anything beyond it the young boy has little grasp of reality: almost anything is possible here.
       A short novella, Down the Rabbit Hole is unsettling in its genial treatment of narco-criminal excess. The boy is also presented as still too young to learn the lessons of events around him; whereas much fiction that features such innocent narrators allows them some growth and increased understanding there is none here: Tochtli remains a character in Wonderland to the chilling end.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 August 2011

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Down the Rabbit Hole: Reviews: Other books by Juan Pablo Villalobos under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Juan Pablo Villalobos was born in 1973.

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© 2011-2022 the complete review

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