Reading Daniel Galera, for me, is a bit like reading Roberto Bolaño. Everyone around me is telling me how amazing and intelligent and brilliant it all is and I am left scratching my head wondering what I’m missing. I suggest that if you love Bolaño you can safely ignore this review and wander on over to Blackwell’s, you will love Blood-Drenched Beard too.
The protagonist of Blood-Drenched Beard suffers from prosopagnosia, a disorder which means he cannot recognise faces, even of people he sees every day, even his own family, he is blind to them. Galera employs narrative techniques to compliment his protagonist’s experience but, unfortunately, these narrative techniques are also quite annoying. The protagonist is never named and beyond mirroring the uncertainty of his worldview this device doesn’t add much to the novel. Instead it slows the pace and causes confusion over who is speaking. This is a minor quibble though compared to the novel’s major quirk, which is lists. The protagonist (and yes, I am as sick as writing ‘the protagonist’ as you are as reading it, believe me) copes with his disorder by noticing and noting many distinguishing features of and around the people he interacts with, clothes, shoes, necklaces, the places they are seating or standing. To highlight this obsession, Galera gives us lists of everything. Bloody. Everything.
“In the boot and back seat of the small Ford Fiesta are two suitcases of clothing, a sound system that he is two instalments away from paying off, a twenty-nine-inch TV, his PlayStation 2, a camping backpack full of personal belongings, a carefully folded wool blanket…”
…and on it goes, and after listing twenty one things the protagonist (the protagonist) has packed…
“He ate a toasted salami-and cheese sandwich in Osório and a meat pasty at a petrol station near Jaguaruna…”
Really? Who has got time for this? It is a clever idea to mirror the protagonist’s (the protagonist the protagonist the protagonist the protagonist GIVE HIM A NAME!) obsessions with all these lists but in practice they are just lists.
The plot of Blood-Drenched Beard is a quest for a dead grandfather and the truth about his murder. The narrative goes off on a few tangents along the way. The plot is a face that the narrative can’t see. The problem, for a European reader, is that many of these tangents appear to rely on the reader having an understanding of South American culture. I got the Borges reference, but had no idea what was going on with the cultural references when the protagonist (THE PROTAGONIST!!!!!!) was viewing a flat, and if you have no knowledge of the particular animosity between Argentina and southern Brazil it is just three pages of a man looking at a flat, listing things in it, and then not renting it.
Any Cop?: This is an extremely clever novel that, unfortunately, mirrors a neurological disorder so well it renders itself barely readable.