The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra (Translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell) - review by Harry Cochrane

Harry Cochrane

Paper Chase

The Private Lives of Trees


Fitzcarraldo 88pp 10.99

Alejandro Zambra affirms his postmodern credentials from line one of The Private Lives of Trees: ‘Julián lulls the little girl to sleep with “The Private Lives of Trees”, a series of stories he makes up to tell her at bedtime.’ Julián is Daniela’s stepfather, a professor of literature at four of Santiago’s universities and a writer on Sundays. Like Julio in Zambra’s 1997 book Bonsai (also recently published in English by Fitzcarraldo), he is working on a novel about ‘a young man tending his bonsai’ (we also learn that, but for a bureaucratic misspelling, Julián would have been named Julio). The oral ‘The Private Lives of Trees’, which stars a poplar and a baobab, unfolds only on nights when Daniela’s mother, Verónica, is out at her drawing class.

Julián says at one point that he ‘would greatly enjoy a half-cocked book full of red herrings’, and The Private Lives of Trees is, in a way, exactly that. But the novel’s metatextual games feel slightly dated and are helped neither by ill-advised mentions of living writers – Jeanette

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