Blurring fiction, memoir, and biography in a blending of two stories: James Earl Ray’s 10-day excursion to Lisbon while on the run after assassinating Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, and the author’s own research trip to the same city in 1987 when writing his first novel.
This is a stylistically complex novel, with shifts of perspective and time, and gorgeously layered language, a book in which to lose oneself, like Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (1979). Molina’s compelling tale also evokes comparisons to Don DeLillo’s 'historiographic metafiction,' especially in Libra (1988), which explores Lee Harvey Oswald much in the manner that Molina writes about James Earl Ray.
There seems to be an inherent tension between the kind of historical detail that Molina accumulates and the ability to understand a character’s motivations. I finished the book feeling that I had come to understand the author himself (or at least his fictionalized counterpart) far better than his subject ... It’s a book about its own creation that lays bare the mechanics of fiction, questioning whether they work at all while simultaneously arguing for the importance of fictionalizing history ... he secondary details here threaten to become the main event, and Molina risks exhausting readers with extensive reportage of what Ray ate, who he met, and where he went ... Like a Fading Shadow might be seen as a mongrel kind of auto-fiction (lately in style through writers like Karl Ove Knausgaard). Through frequent info-dumps and editorializing on the nature of the novel, Molina seems to be trying to construct a novel that writes itself, drawing on the raw materials of history and of the author’s own life ... with its compulsive regurgitation of facts and its awkward mix of memoir, history, and fiction, has a wayward feel to it, as if the author got lost in the thicket of his own investigation.
...at times reads like an FBI file. Everything—where Ray eats, what aliases he uses, how his interactions with people unfold—is cataloged in a repetitive and seemingly endless list, making the sheer amount of research it took to pull off palpable ... The novel gets its novel-ness from uniting such disparate genres as true crime and literary memoir, and then producing some kind of meaning from the link between the two. But what comes out of Muñoz Molina’s literary particle accelerator remains, for the duration of the novel, an indecipherable mystery ... The pleasure of Muñoz Molina’s absorbing chapters on Ray, however, are weighed down by the chapters dedicated to his memoirs set in Lisbon. Only the most dedicated Muñoz Molina scholar might find something of value in chapter-length collages of writerly anxieties, boilerplate theories of the novel, and overdramatized memories of an overripe affair.