‘Like a Fading Shadow’ by Antonio Munoz Molina


2017, 308 p. Translated from the Spanish by Camilo A Ramirez

This book takes as its starting point the little-known fact that after the assassination of  Martin Luther King, the chief suspect James Earl Ray spent ten days in Lisbon, trying to obtain an Angolan visa. When this did not succeed, he went to London, where he was arrested.

This thread of the story, based on true facts, is interwoven with the author’s own narrative of the act of writing. This itself is split into two further threads: in 1987 when, as a young writer, the first-person author went to Lisbon to write another story (which we never get to read) set in Lisbon, and then a return journey in 2012,  when the author returns to Lisbon, then travels to Memphis to research the James Earl Ray story for, presumably, the book you are reading.

This all sounds rather complex, but it’s not really while you’re reading it, once you realize that there are two separate author narratives in play.  In a way, it is almost a relief to break away from the increasingly fevered, paranoid world of James Earl Ray which, left unmediated, would be suffocating.  As his money runs out, he is becoming encircled by his own fears and distrust as much as anything else.  When the end comes – as we know it does – Molina jumps ahead to James Earl Ray in prison years later, writing his own narrative that centres on ‘Raoul’, the man Ray claimed to have been behind the assassination. Molina reports this, but sceptically.

Separated by twenty-five years, the older author ‘I’ is a more balanced, reflective man than the younger author, who left his wife with a newborn second baby in order to follow his passion in writing his novel.  As an older man, he is by now reflective about the act of writing, the role of novelization and the narrative imagination.

The last part of the book takes us almost minute-by-minute to Martin Luther King, hanging over the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.  We know exactly what is going to happen, yet Molina manages to wind up the tension as we wait for the finger to press the trigger.

The time shifts in this book are complex, but Molina keeps good control of them.  It’s a taut, controlled book that draws you on, even though you know how it’s going to end.

My rating: 8.5

Sourced from : Yarra Plenty Regional Library

One response to “‘Like a Fading Shadow’ by Antonio Munoz Molina

  1. I haven’t read your review because this is on my wishlist and I want to read it myself before reading reviews, but I will come back here when I have.

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