Skip to content

MBI 2019: The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez


The final book in the longlist – this was tackled by all the panellists and it’s fair to say we didn’t agree with each other about this one.

Synopsis from Goodreads: A sweeping tale of conspiracy theories, assassinations, and twisted obsessions — the much anticipated masterpiece from Juan Gabriel Vasquez.

The Shape of the Ruins is a masterly story of conspiracy, political obsession, and literary investigation. When a man is arrested at a museum for attempting to steal the bullet-ridden suit of a murdered Colombian politician, few notice. But soon this thwarted theft takes on greater meaning as it becomes a thread in a widening web of popular fixations with conspiracy theories, assassinations, and historical secrets; and it haunts those who feel that only they know the real truth behind these killings.

This novel explores the darkest moments of a country’s past and brings to life the ways in which past violence shapes our present lives. A compulsive read, beautiful and profound, eerily relevant to our times and deeply personal, The Shape of the Ruins is a tour-de-force story by a master at uncovering the incisive wounds of our memories.

Tracy’s Thoughts: A man tries to steal the suit of an assassinated politician, and the author/character- Vasquez- gets embroiled in conspiracy theories after reading about this unsuccessful theft. He meets an upstanding professor, and a bunch of shady characters, all fascinated with assassinations and tragic events. Vasquez himself becomes fascinated as well.

The author is very talented- it is well planned, and executed logically. He clearly researched his information- and there is a lot of information. He has a style that maintains the reader’s interest. The author inserts himself as a character in the story- which Philip Roth did in some of his novels, so it isn’t an original idea, but he did it well.

Which brings me to what I didn’t like about this novel: conspiracy theory. I tend to avoid books that address conspiracies- they seem like a futile exercise. The excess information noted above was excruciating. Despite my dislike, I’m pretty sure this will be shortlisted.
And I do plan to read more books by this author.

Writing quality: 4.5/5
Originality: 2.5/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 13/20

Emily’s Thoughts: I really tried and wanted to like this book, but just couldn’t. Do I feel like a philistine? Yes, but “it’s too many damn pages for any man to understand!”

Maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it but I could barely follow the plot or tell the characters apart, the political intrigue didn’t grab me and I think I missed a lot of symbolism and significance. I spent so long on Wikipedia looking at Colombian history and it just didn’t help. I feel like I’ve failed the book rather than it failing me, but I Just Couldn’t with this one.

The plot felt quite impersonal and I would have liked some more psychological interaction, or a greater range of characters. The universality of the experiences and thoughts about power and governments didn’t strike me or reach out to me, so mainly I was just having flashbacks to nightmares about joining a history course 6 months in without doing any of the reading.

I’m sorry Vasquez – I think we just weren’t right for each other.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 1/4
Overall enjoyment: 0/2
Total: 9/20

Book Worm’s Thoughts: Unlike the other panellists I really enjoyed this novel and yes I must confess to loving conspiracy theories so that probably helped. There is a lot of information in this book and a lot of historical detail and the author himself tells the reader to research this at your own risk, that is sound advise as you could really disappear down the rabbit hole of information that the internet provides.

I like the way the narrative unfolds with the author himself getting caught up in the web of intrigue presented by a man who desperately wants someone to tell the world his story. The novel is interspersed with historical documents and photos about the conspiracy that Vasquez is charged with revealing and these along with the absolute convictions of the characters that something has been hidden from the world made this a compelling read.

In terms of character we follow Vasquez for a number of years from when he first meets the conspiracy theorists. During this time he becomes a father, a successful author and returns to his native Colombia to live after years living abroad. He becomes embroiled in the conspiracy theory and over time he comes to realise that there may be more to history than the official version. The other central character Carballo is shown to descend more and more into his obsession about the past.

The plot is basically a retelling of history and how the presentation of unheard evidence can be compelling in putting forward a new version of events it also shows how easy it is to lose yourself in the past trying to discover the truth. It is the story of the conversion from sceptic to reluctant believer.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 15/20

Combined Rating: 12.3/20

Have you read this one what did you think?


Love in the New Millennium 18/20
The Remainder 17.3/20
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead 16.5/20
The Faculty of Dreams 14.5/20
Mouthful of Birds 14.5/20
Celestial Bodies 14/20
Four Soldiers 14/20
The Years 12.75/20
The Pine Islands 12.5/20
The Shape of the Ruins 12.3/20
The Death of Murat Idrissi 10.5/20
At Dusk 9.5/20
Jokes for the Gunmen 9/20

One Comment Post a comment
  1. I just finished this and I LOVED IT. I am not usually a fan of books that the author puts him/herself into as a character, but this book is just so good I don’t even care. And I know I missed things because most of the Colombian history I know I have read online in the last 2 weeks. But the quote I shared on goodreads pretty much sums up why I became a history major.


    May 12, 2019

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: