Person as Persona: Loquela by Carlos Labbé
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by Alexandra Talty
Carlos Labbé takes readers on a surrealistic rollercoaster in his latest work, Loquela. Setting up his novel–if this can be called that–as a discourse between lovers, it begins as a meditation by one of the main character’s, Carlos. And just in case one thinks this is a simple premise for one of Latin America’s most avant-garde writers, the reader quickly learns that Carlos–which is also the name of the author–is a character in a book who is writing a book about someone writing book. Talk about inception.
As a reader, if you are willing to let things like changing character names slide, it proves to be a beautiful story about modern-day Chile and South America, focusing on themes of consumption, the role of humans in nature, and rampant capitalism.
A few key events and objects ground the narrative: an albino girl, a murder, a student literary magazine, a rape, a novel, an untoward professor, a letter. By reverberating around these central issues, Labbé gives the reader the feeling that although they might not know what exactly is happening, as names and times and places are changed between chapters, they are delving into the importance behind these occurrences.
Flipping between “the Novel” Carlos who is a struggling writer in Santiago, Chile and two other characters who at first are only referred to as “The Recipient” and “The Sender,” the story slowly unfolds. “The Recipient” is quickly deduced to be the “real Carlos,” who, through diary entries, speaks about his wish to write a real novel that would take the text of his life and then delete all personal references. “The Sender’s” identity takes longer to deduce, but once it is clear that she is the albino girl of both Carlos’ daydreams, the reader is able to draw a muddy line between fiction and reality.
However, decoding what is fiction and reality is not at all essential to the experience; in fact, part of the text’s magic is the enigma of it. To fully enjoy Labbé’s world, the reader must let go of ideas like characters, events or even plot. While there is a purpose to everything, one will probably never deduce the exact meaning or truth unless they were Labbé himself.
“You decide, you’ve already received these pages, if I am not in eternity or simply the lines of a novel, as a person, as a persona, as a model; you decide if I die with you in the moment you stop reading me.”
Deeply sensual, the novel hits its stride when focusing on the themes of love and writing, often presenting these two as foils of sorts, as both can never be fully realized and can only be worked on tirelessly. Labbé is insightful regarding human experience, deftly capturing the reader with descriptions of Santiago or the fictional land of Neutria. The reader retains slivers of the main characters throughout, illuminated by concrete scenes that, while not in chronological order, serve to explain something of the narrative.
This cleverly constructed, fantastical world is edged with a violence–a murder, a rape under a bridge, an investigation. While the characters’ roles in the acts are always shifting, on an abstract level, they offer comment on the heartlessness of our modern, mundane world.
A great book for an adventurous reader, the beautiful prose, sensual descriptions and poignant commentary in Loquela prove to be captivating journey from beginning to end.