My holiday reading: Paul Lynch, novelist

In Athens with Roberto Bolano’s ‘2666’

Paul Lynch: "I had become fixated. What started as a pleasant dip on the plane quickly turned into mania."

Paul Lynch: "I had become fixated. What started as a pleasant dip on the plane quickly turned into mania."


“I recently spent a few days in Athens. I had in mind some antiquity and Metaxa. A little flâneuring about eventide streets. Athens is not a gilded city, but it’s difficult to ignore: the streets are awash with anarchic graffiti, while that old hump, the Acropolis, dominates.

“And yet, after a few days, I began to notice that I was not leaving the roof garden much. Or when I did, it was to go to a cafe to read. I had brought with me 2666, Roberto Bolaño’s 900-page doorstopper. And I had become fixated. What started as a pleasant dip on the plane quicky turned into mania. I wasn’t reading the book but inhaling it.

“Bolaño’s sprawling multinarrative is global, but each part pulls you back to the book’s lodestone: the city of Santa Teresa, a proxy for Ciudad Juárez, in Mexico, where hundreds of women have been kidnapped and murdered.

“And then the strangest thing: as I got lost in Bolaño’s disturbing middle section, The Part About the Crimes, a 300-page set piece detailing unsolved murders, Athens faded away. The Acropolis became a postcard idea. I began to achieve a kind of transcendence.

“I would come out of the book in a daze to sip coffee, and for a confused moment I would believe I was in Santa Teresa. I found myself looking at men suspiciously, as if they were waiting, about to bundle some helpless woman into a car.

“I began to feel unsafe. I began to wish I wasn’t in Mexico.”

In conversation with Sara Keating

Paul Lynch’s novel, Red Sky in Morning, is published by Quercus.

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