Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Story of the Story of the Night

One of the best parts of vacations is that you get caught up on reading. There is something infinitely more satisfying about reading a book in a day or two versus spreading it out over weeks, catching a chapter here or there before sleep or during American Idol commercials (as if I didn't have TiVo. Hah!).

Anyway, I recently traveled to Patagonia, Argentina, and then to Buenos Aires. Two days before I left I had a marvelously synchronistic experience. I mentioned to my Irish colleague and friend Annie Galvin that I recently had occasion to dine with my favorite author Colm Toibin, wondering if she knew of him since Annie is a poet, also Irish. She said of course that he was one of her favorites, and she asked if I had read The Story of the Night, his book set in Buenos Aires. Well, I had no idea that he had written a book set in Buenos Aires and it seemed like the perfect book to take along, so I did.

The book starts out sad, and I almost put it aside, thinking that it might not be the right book for vacation. It was the subject matter that was bringing me down: another gay novel with a closeted narrator, a young English tutor, no less, having only covert sexual liaisons and falling in love with his star pupil. But the book morphs quickly from that familiar plot. Soon the narrator meets some American diplomats (CIA?) and starts a new life as sort of translator/fixer for American businessmen who are swooping in on Argentina in the 80's to start privatizing the industry there. You learn a bit about modern Argentinian history (Peronism, the disappeared activists from the Dirty War).

A note about the style. I don't think I've ever read a book with such carefully controlled sentences and precision, or rather, a book in which the tone is so even. It's a true case of form following function, since Toibin is using the actual sentence structure to say something at once about the repressed nature of the Argentinian culture, the personality of the narrator who is outwardly stoic, and the nature of translation in a secret society. The sentences are uniformly simple and declarative, but with a tension and subtext galore--like every sentence is hiding a deeper meaning. So it reads like an espionage novel a bit, though the main movement is personal and intensely romantic in the best sense--true love found in the most unlikely of situations.

As I said, it starts out sad, and truthfully (and I don't think this is a spoiler) it ends somewhat sad too. But it's a rich kind of sad, a satisfying journey. Take this book on vacation or take it to the park--it's a worthwhile read.


The Lonely Robot said...

Annie's father brought that book to us from Ireland a few years back and handed it to me as a good read, and as I read it I not only had the same reaction as you did (tone, structure, etc) but I also thought it spoke volumes about Tim Galvin.

That book has seen three continents. I love that. Nice blog, too, by the way.


Lisa said...


Colm is a very good friend of a friend of mine. I bet I can hook you up for coffee, if you like.

I'm loving your posts, Mark. I believe you found/created the perfect vehicle for your voice here.

xo Lisa