Mexico, 1935. Harrison Shepherd is working in the household of famed muralist Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo. Sometimes cook, sometimes secretary, Shepherd is always an observer, recording his experiences in diaries and notebooks. When exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky arrives, Shepherd inadvertently casts in his lot with art and revolution and his aim for an invisible life is thwarted forever.
This has been on my to read pile ever since I read Cuban writer, Leonardo Padura’s excellent novel, The Man Who Loved Dogs. The title, The Lacuna alludes to much in the text, the gaps in the reader’s knowledge of Shepherd’s life, his feelings of not fitting in, and of the other characters stories and in part their motivations.
Like a game of football, this is a book of two halves. The latter part I found to be a lot more engaging, partly because it allows the narrator more room to speak, and also as it helps fill in another gap in history that I hadn’t really much knowledge about. Perhaps that is excusable as most of European literature and history is focusing on the rebuilding of the continent after WWII and our own part in the Cold War.
The past is all we know of the future
To begin with I wasn’t overly blown away by the writing, more annoying was that certain themes were alluded to and then outright brought to my attention through the narrator. It would have been much more subtle, if left hanging in the background, for the reader to discover, even if on a second or third read through.
I didn’t get much of a sense of Diego Rivera as a character either, he is fairly peripheral, his wife Frida is more interesting and remains pleasingly enigmatic, although she is seen as faultless, precisely because of her faults. Trotsky is mainly seen as a hero/saint type of figure, lacking some of the complexity that could have made him more interesting, as in Padura’s book. Shepherd himself is detached in this first part, as he struggles to discover his place, and true self. Continue reading “The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver”