Another slim novel to the table, but by no means one that leaves you feeling unsatisfied. I have way too many on the go at once so I enjoy a nice short read now and again to help me break things up and get through my more sizeable books with more energy. Yum.
The protagonist of Ernesto Sabato’s The Tunnel writes a brisk and frank account of himself from his jail cell as the murderer of María Iribane. We warm to our anti-hero, Castel, as we sympathise and relate to his absurd condition, of his amusing misanthropic reactions to everyday life, his incompatibility with social norms and his over-the-top methodical approach to confronting problems – at one point he makes a numbered list of possibilities he could take when he decides to confront the girl he ends up killing.
But Castel’s over-analytic and hyper-logical mind makes him exhaustingly paranoid and we endure the full extent of his obsessive and terrifying perspective and all measure of compassion for Castel is lost: for six months he fantasises over seeing for a second time María, a woman who passingly comments on a minute detail in one of his paintings, a detail which Castel prides himself in. Castel’s obsession lends itself to chilling levels of control and manipulation as he finds her again and worms his way into her marriage and her life, subjugating her physically and mentally to his volatile interrogations:
‘Because isn’t it obvious’, I continued implacably, ‘that if you show that you feel nothing, that you feel no passion for him, if you show that making love is a sacrifice you offer in return for his love for you, your admiration for his greatness in spirit, and so on, Allende would never go to bed with you again. In other words: that he keeps coming to you proves you are able to deceive him, not only about your love, but even your own feelings. You are able to give a perfect imitation of pleasure.
Maria was weeping silently, staring at the floor. When she could speak, she said, ‘You are incredibly cruel’
Castel’s obsessive thoughts lead to all sorts of doubting and wavering about his love for María, the love that he has invented between the two of them, so that you wonder whether the entire relationship has any basis in truth and that it could all be the twisted projections of Castel. These fabrications he invents for himself lead to the cause of María’s death, where María is ultimately murdered because she had understood him.
The Tunnel is quick and creepy. Like most Latin American literature I have read, it has a particular intensity that is absent from other Western literature and Castel’s unique and succinct insight makes one very wary of what goes on in the minds of others.
I sat pondering the idea of the absence of meaning. Was our life nothing more than a sequence of anonymous screams in a desert of indifferent stars?