As much as I enjoyed delving into the deep, murky world of Victorian England I definitely needed a break before picking up something new. I therefore decided to go for something on literally the opposite end of the scale. Short, exotic and quirky.
I say quirky, I suppose to the Mexican / Argentinian / Chilean eye there may be nothing quirky at all about these stories that seem so completely fantastical and upside down to my British brain, however well-acquainted I am with literary modes such as magical realism and the works of the big names such as Gabriel García Marquez. In Oxfam a couple of weeks ago a colourful copy of The Penguin Book of Latin American Short Stories caught my eye. I don’t often buy selections of short stories as I usually like to delve into novels and get a bit more involved in the story rather than be cut off half way through (as I used to feel). However, I have to say that my opinions may be about to alter radically as there are some brilliant snippets of work by some very well known authors in this book and, given the mind boggling nature of some of them, their brevity suits me just fine.
You really do have to be in the mood for this kind of thing, so I decided to read just one section of tales from The River Plate (tales from Argentina and Uruguay). Some I just didn’t get, and a couple really made me glad I persevered. Here were my favourites (that I actually understood! Doh!):
The Dead Man by Horacio Quiroga – three pages of existential musings by an author who was completely preoccupied with the subject of death. One day, a man working hard in his banana plantation decides to have a rest before returning to his home for dinner. In an accident that is shocking for being so freak and taking place in such an ordinary situation, he slips on a strip of bark and suddenly finds himself lying on the hard ground with his machete sticking fatally out of his side. What follows is a series of musings that this man has on his own untimely demise as his horse stands guard nearby and his son calls him to dinner. Not depressing, merely very thought-provoking.
The Idol by Adolfo Bioy Casares – I’m beginning to realise that part of the beauty of short stories is that you can hop through time and space every ten pages or so and explore a completely different story/idea which keeps things interesting. This morsel introduces us to a rather natty interior designer-come-antiques dealer chap who is tasked with redecorating a wealthy friend’s apartment and seeking out interesting pieces for him. On a trip to Europe he acquires a Celtic idol; a carving of a dog with no eyes that he promptly installs in his friends apartment when he gets back to Buenos Aires. The arrival of a girl he meets whilst over in France then marks the beginning of strange events, as the relationship between her and the stone idol appears to be inextricably linked and the men are drawn to her helplessly as if under a spell. Intriguing.
Good stories, you’ll need to pay attention though, because you can’t skim read these if you want any chance of understanding them!