Friday, September 30, 2011

The Tunnel - Ernesto Sabato

Ernesto Sabato, one of the masters of 20th century  Latin American Literature died last April, two months ahead of his 100th birth day. The tunnel, originally published in 1948, has been heralded as one of the pioneer in the existentialist novels. This is my first reading of Ernesto Sabato and I am still under its spell.

Juan Pablo Castel, a modernist painter, killed his only friend in the world, Maria Iribane, whom he loved and longed. From his cell, he recalls his days of love and the events that followed until the murder.

It would be sufficient to say that I am Juan Pablo Castel, the painter who killed Maria Iribane. ..... You may wonder what has motivated me to write this account of my crime, and why I want to publish it..
He gives no specific reason, " I want to tell the story of my crime: that and nothing more."

The met, or more accurate to say, he saw her in one of his painting exhibition. According to him, she was the only one who recognised or understood his painting. The accidental meeting later the week made him follow her to the building she worked or came to do some errand in the neighborhood.  The attraction turned mutual and on his part, it has become obsessive. Obsession changes him. He grew possessive and suspicious at the same time. He cant live without her presence near, despite knowing she is married to a blind man and she most likely have another lover in the country side. Maria on her part plays along exhibiting similar traits and wanting to suffer from his hand until she was murdered at the hand of Castel.

Castel is a compelling character, though he is not one you will want to be familiar with. He thinks in the probability theory on every aspect of their relationship. He substantiate his thoughts with his own theory and try to extract responses and behaviour from her that conforms his theory. Under suspicion, every thing she does is looked through microscopic scrutiny and the negative thought developed over and over makes him nervous and tormented. He wants to escape this path and goes back to his own, but  continued to be pulled back. Even when they are together, he is not able to have normal conversation and he fails to express himself to her despite his best effort . He confront himself and her, trying to figure out all the possible reasons of her actions and the possible options that exists for him , trying to analyse them logically. Each move from him is one of the possible outcome, which may not seems convincing to the rest of the world,  including his conviction of killing her.

Not surprisingly ( well, thinking about it now) this book was praised by Albert Camus and Graham Greene. Critics says, this book also reflects the isolation of an urban Argentine youth and explores the irrationality and dark side of the modern metropolis. You may also want to read this as a political novel as Argentina at that time was under the rule of  Peron. It is intersting to note that Sabato was the chairman of the commission that investigated the murders committed during the dictatorship ( which of course was much later in 1984).

The language is impeccable. Short and controlled sentences. Clear in communicating and displaying the emotion they convey. It is also non pretentious and surprisingly narrator is calm and collected in his thoughts. He conclude saying "There was one person who could have understood me. But she was the person I killed".

Brilliant novel, I am sure will have to read a couple of more times to fully appreciate this.
The Tunnel ( 1948)

Ernesto Sabato ( translated from Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden 1988 )

Penguin Classic

140 Pages
Further read : Guardian 1, Guardian 2, independent , Wiki

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