Udo, a German war games champion, and his girlfriend Ingeborg take their first vacation as a couple in Southern Spain, staying at a hotel Udo grew up vacationing with his parents in. Rejecting Ingeborg’s pleas to have a real vacation, Udo sets up one of his elaborate games in their room anyway and the arrogant young man’s sanity swiftly unravels as the summer comes to an end on the beach. As the couple parties with a younger couple Ingeborg befriends, Charly and Hanna, staying at a neighboring, seedier hotel along with a couple of wild locals, the Wolf and the Lamb, the plot takes terrifying twists and turns through the travails of Udo’s mind. When Charly disappears, Udo decides to stay in Spain under the pretense of waiting for his body to reappear but really to immerse himself in his game entirely. Once Ingeborg leaves, Udo spends all of his time lusting after the hotel’s owner, Frau Else, and inviting a mysterious local, El Quemado into his room to play his game with, until he begins to suspect everything that’s happening is not a game, after all, and not only his sanity but his life is at stake should he make the wrong decisions.
This novel is a testament to Bolaño’s skill as a writer, since I couldn’t stand Udo from page one and yet I couldn’t stop reading, needing to know what was going to happen to him and if he was ever going to recover his soul from the wreckage. The novel contains classic Bolaño elements: dark humor, sometimes detestable characters, the need to become lost in order to be found. Somewhat reminiscent of The Savage Detectives in storytelling, and very, very dark.