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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Neruda Case

Roberto Ampuero

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To purchase The Neruda Case

Title: The Neruda Case
Author: Roberto Ampuero
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 340 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Neruda Case - US
El caso Neruda - US
The Neruda Case - UK
The Neruda Case - Canada
The Neruda Case - India
Der Fall Neruda - Deutschland
Il caso Neruda - Italia
El caso Neruda - España

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Our Assessment:

B : globe-trotting in interesting times, but falls a bit flat

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural . 11/9/2009 Ernesto Calabuig
The Independent D 27/11/2014 Jethro Soutar
The New Yorker . 2/7/2012 .
Publishers Weekly . 4/8/2008 .
Publishers Weekly . 7/5/2012 .
The Washington Post . 19/7/2012 Art Taylor

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ampuero muestra su maestría en la creación de atmósferas y en la naturalidad de los diálogos, a menudo aderezados con sentido del humor." - Ernesto Calabuig, El Cultural

  • "The stakes remain low. It's also difficult to latch on to the narrative thrust due to all the circumstantial detail. (...) It's like a Latin American Da Vinci Code, minus the page-turning. (...) I found vast swathes of The Neruda Case virtually unreadable, but some people might like the sense of other that comes from being able to see the mechanics of the original." - Jethro Soutar, The Independent

  • "The novel successfully blends historical facts, including the hours prior to the coup that ended Salvador Allende's government in 1973, with biographical details of Neruda's political relationship with his friend Allende. Fans of Neruda will be particularly intrigued by the sections on Neruda's complex life and love affairs" - Publishers Weekly

  • "Read this one as much for the story as for the wonderful way Ampuero has with words." - Publishers Weekly

  • "While Cayetano’s quest provides the novel’s narrative thrust, the book ultimately seems more a meditation on Neruda and Chile and even detective fiction itself. (...) Poor copy-editing or sloppy translating seem clearly at fault elsewhere, with more than a few stylistically awkward sentences and other missteps." - Art Taylor, The Washington Post

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:

       The Neruda Case isn't the first of Roberto Ampuero's novels featuring private investigator Cayetano Brulé, but it is the first to appear in English; in this case the American publishers can (almost) be excused for introducing readers to the series out of sequence, since The Neruda Case does describe Brulé's first 'case', and how he became a detective in the first place.
       While the novel opens in Valparaíso, Chile, in 2006, almost all of it is set in the early 1970s, in Chile and beyond. Here the Cuban-born Cayetano is still a recent arrival: he came to Chile with his wife, but two years on finds himself still unemployed and at loose ends. On the other hand, his politically aware and active wife is a real go-getter, realizing that the Allende government in Chile is in grave danger and trying to do her part (which eventually also takes her to Castro's Cuba).
       Cayetano meets a man who first introduces himself as Ricardo Reyes (Cayetano is apparently not well-read enough to recognize the Pessoan heteronym allusion ...) and suggests Cayetano has: "the makings of a detective". The man turns out to be the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, who proceeds to help make Cayetano into a detective, giving him his first case. (Cayetano has his doubts, but he also has little better to do -- and who can turn down a request from a living (and also dying) legend ?) With Simenon's Maigret novels as guide and instruction-manuals -- so Neruda's suggestion -- Cayetano has a go at it.
       Neruda, suffering from cancer, spins a story of a Mexican doctor, Ángel Bracamonte, an oncologist whom he last saw some three decades earlier and whom he wants Cayetano to find (but not approach or contact, at least not until Neruda has told Cayetano exactly how to do that). So Cayetano sets off for Mexico and dabbles at investigation, eventually meeting with at least some sort of success -- only to find that Neruda was, in fact, more or less just testing him. The person the poet really wants Cayetano to find is Bracamonte's wife, Beatriz -- and even she is just the key to another personal matter the poet wants cleared up.
       It's not exactly a wild goose-chase, but the various leads lead Cayetano on to a number of left-leaning locales, notably Cuba and East Germany (coincidentally or not, stations in the younger Ampuero's life as well ...). Bolivia, too -- where even Che Guevara's murder becomes a piece in the larger puzzle. Meanwhile, Salvador Allende's government is under increased threat and soon enough in its final throes; among the nice touches in the book is Cayetano's wife's warning that Souper's failed coup in June, 1973, was just a trial run, to test the authorities' capabilities. Neruda-friend Allende also pays a visit to the poet in the course of the story.
       Ampuero's mix of ambition and nostalgia, and especially the wide-ranging travel, weigh down the book. Fine in its tribute to Neruda -- though even here the nostalgia wallow can get to be a bit much (Ampuero lived near the poet's house as a boy, and even gives his childhood self a cameo in the novel) -- the 'personal' mystery bogs down in all the international and political mysteries and goings-on. Ampuero shows some decent first-hand knowledge -- surely only someone who has lived there would include among the contents of a nightstand drawer in the GDR: "pills, condoms, and a novel by Harry Thürk" -- but also relies a bit too much on that. There's an authentic-enough feel to the story, but there's too little story -- or, arguably, too much, with Cayetano (and the reader) never allowed to linger sufficiently in one locale or on one part of it in this very restless novel.
       There's an overabundance of great subject matter here, and Ampuero lets himself get distracted by much of it, forcing too much into the novel, diluting the story. The result is okay, but not much more.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 July 2012

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The Neruda Case: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chilean author Roberto Ampuero was born in 1953. He currently serves as ambassador to Mexico.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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