A terrific novella from a much-celebrated Argentinian writer who, as I understand it, garnered a great deal of his international regard from this 1948 book. It’s quite a Dostoyevskian tale, told in first-person “Notes From Underground” style by an embittered (and now imprisoned) egotist who gains a dawning awareness of the limits of his own character in the course of his storytelling. It concerns Juan Pablo Castel, who recounts in confused, stop-start and often contradictory detail how he came to murder Maria, whom he fell instantly in love with when she lingered on a small (but to Castel, extremely important) detail in one of his paintings at an art opening.
Castel is a lonely misanthrope, who, like the narrator in “Notes From Underground”, seems to undermine any chance he might have at love by insecurely haranguing the object of his affections, then flying off the handle and into a panic when her actions don’t conform to his desires. It’s a darkly comic story, made all the better by the reader’s realization of just what a horrible boob Castel is, even while he’s still himself coming to grips with his own limitations. Oh, and you can read it in about three hours – and even less if you’ve been to the Evelyn Wood School of Reading Dynamics.