‘Colombian psycho’ by Santiago Gamboa (Alfaguara)

literary criticism

After ‘It will be a long night’, the Colombian writer continues the trilogy on violence in his country

Inaki Ezkerra

In ‘American Psycho’, Bret Easton Ellis put us before a ruthless psychopath from the Manhattan of the 80s who had everything but dedicated himself to murder to fill his existential emptiness.

Colombian psycho

Author Santiago Gamboa
Editorial Alfaguara
pages 584
Price €21.90

The Colombian
Santiago Gamboa paraphrases the title of that novel in ‘
Colombian Psycho‘, which makes the second of that trilogy of the black genre that began in 2019 with ‘It will be a long night’ and which focuses on the hell of violence in his land. ‘Colombian Psycho’ inherits the central characters of the narrative installment that precedes it; that endearing team formed by the prosecutor Edilson Jutsiñamuy; his collaborator, the journalist Julieta Lezama; the latter’s assistant, Johana, a former FARC guerrilla; the agent René Laiseca… They all go to work on a thorny case that begins with the first words that open the novel: «A lonely hand emerging from the earth». The macabre discovery takes place on a farm in the hills of La Calera, which are located in the northeastern part of Bogotá. In the middle of a glittering party of Colombian high society, Dorotea Londoño, the posh daughter of the owners of the house, suffers a shock at the disturbing sight of the extremity that appears on the ground when she is plunged into the sexual act with a college friend. The description, not exempt from sensationalism and a bold sense of humor, that Gamboa gives us of that ‘coitus interruptus’ deserves to go down in the annals of literature: «He screamed so hard that Felipe’s penis was expelled from his body like the cork in a fine bottle of Veuve Clicquot.” Despite this grotesque beginning and despite a peculiar sense of humor, this is a serious and dramatic portrait of Colombian reality, of a society bowed down by fear and pain in the face of a climate of criminality that reaches high institutional levels and does not allow space for heroes. In this context, prosecutor Jutsiñamuy and his team would undoubtedly constitute an exception. What they are going to face is a series of heinous murders that touch the limits of the fantastic. Unscrupulous rulers parade through these pages, paramilitaries, drug traffickers, churches that serve as fronts, businessmen bought and officials sold, the accomplice Creole bourgeoisie, indigenous people, shamans… And also the so-called ‘false positives’ , which are the peasants, students, workers and other civilians assassinated by members of the Army to pass them off as guerrillas and collect economic compensation or other recognition. Death, daily event Santiago Gamboa places this hair-raising fresco in a present that he understands as the fateful result of the failed ‘peace process’ that the 2016 plebiscite tried to open. But the text flies over, due to its stark realism, the political keys and interpretations . What really weighs in this novel written in an omniscient third person, as well as packed with agile dialogues that lighten the density of the narrative, is the constant presence of death as a daily occurrence, the reflection that the author pours over this and his involvement in the plot to the point that he appears as one more character, perhaps as an alter ego, but exercising the writer’s office as the real Santiago Gamboa, as well as with his own name and surname. Others of a culturalist nature are added to that license. ‘Paradiso’ by Lezama Lima appears in the library owned by the character Gamboa and, of the ten parts into which the novel is divided, one paraphrases a title by Malcolm Lowry while five of them repeat the title of a literary work: ‘El Writer and His Ghosts’ by Ernesto Sabato, ‘Hell So Feared’ by Juan Carlos Onetti, ‘Journey to the End of the Night’ by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, ‘Memories from Beyond the Grave’ by Chateaubriand and ‘Death Once More’ by Spanish poet Miguel Ángel Velasco. These references give ‘Colombian Psycho’ a metaliterary dimension and make it more than just a black novel.

‘Colombian psycho’ by Santiago Gamboa (Alfaguara)