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Old 3rd Mar 2004, 6:21   #1
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Default Ernesto Sabato: On Heroes And Tombs

Black and morbid book. The author sets the tone at the very beginning, giving - for a foreword - fragment of a police report informing about two persons' death in a house fire in the now neglected, earlier aristocratic part of Buenos Aires. The details aren't clear, but the evidence seems to suggest that it was one of the victims - Alejandra, who set the house on fire, burning herself alive after shooting her father. The foreword takes up about a page; the rest of the book (nearly 500 pages) is a slow meandrous journey, which I naively expected to finish with the clear explanation of how and why the tragedy happened, but was given instead a couple of hints from either unreliable or situated far from the centre of action narrators.

The novel features four main characters: Alejandra - sort of distant soul sister to Kathy of Wuthering Heights; Fernando Vidal - her father, paranoid madman (let's stay with this version); Martin and Bruno, two guys who were unlucky to fall in love with, respectively, Alejandra and her mother. The part of the book concentrating on Fernando, "Report on the Blind" is undoubtedly the best - if grim and sickly. Let me give you a sample. Vidal is obsessed with the blind, convinced that they form worldwide conspiracy or lodge; when a friend of his, Iglesias, loses sight due to the accident with chemicals, he takes the opportunity to penetrate the enemy's lines by spying on the victim:

As a matter of fact, he greatly mistrusted me. He became more and more wary of me as the days went by, and after three weeks, when his metamorphosis was very nearly complete, he had ceased to trust me altogether. If my theories were correct, there was a certain sign that would mark Iglesias's definite entry into the new realm, his total transformation: the feeling of repulsion that real blind men always arouse in me. Nor does that repulsion or apprehension or phobia appear all at once: my experience had proved to me that this too comes about gradually, until one day we find ourselves confronted with the hair-raising fait accomplit: that bat or the reptile is there before our very eyes. I remember that day: as I approached the room in the pension in which Iglesias had been living since his accident, I experienced an odd sensation of malaise, a vague apprehension that grew stronger and stronger as I drew closer to his room, becoming so intense that I hesitated a moment before knocking on his door. Then, almost trembling , I called out: "Iglesias" and something answered: "Come in." I opened the door and there in the darkness (for naturally there was no need for him to have a light on when he was alone) I heard the breathing of the new monster.
I don't think this novel will ever gain a wide circle of fans, even if the vague plans of making the film adaptation come off. Those who aren't disturbed by ideas and imagery like the above (and there are more things like that) will get put off by slow pacing, theatricality, lack of I won't say sense of humour but I don't know, wit, anything, to leaven a bit the thick matter of this novel. For my part, I moved to The Namesake with relief.
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