I read Argentinian Iosi Havilio’s Open Door last week for Spanish Literature Month. The start of the novel was as hypnotic as anything I have ever read. After losing her girlfriend in the city, the female protagonist witnesses a suicide jumping from a bridge over a river. It turns out that she was witnessing her girlfriend jumping to her death. Or was she?
Thereafter, traumatised protagonist retreats to the countryside village of Open Door and takes up with an older man, …. and a younger woman. The rest of the novel consists mainly of their liaisons – and a number of visits to the city to identify a series of corpses. You can tell from my prosaic language that the second two-thirds didn’t live up to the promise of the first, despite some wonderful flowing prose and the tantilising fact that the village and the novel are named after a psychiatric asylum. In fact, I found myself wondering as to its point.
Then I read the afterword writen by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera which claims that Open Door lives up to Borges’ challenge.
Borges contended you couldn’t approach truth, ultimate meaning or ideal beauty directly because doing so, and being able to experience such things as the face of God, the meaning of the universe, or truth, would turn out to be a nightmare. The experience would be blinding and destructive. …
It is best to proceed by revealing one layer of appearance after another in the same way as one peels an onion, but without expecting to get to the hard kernel. Warning: onions do not have a hard kernel. …
… Havilio proceeds as Borges recommended: he describes effects rather than their causes and works through narrative rather than by naming.
Except it seems there is a clue on the back of one of the Spanish editions where Havilio names the causes, his monsters …. capitalism and every man for himself.
Well, knock me sideways. There I was thinking this was just a sordid little tale in which those with no limits or sense of decency eventually grow up and become responsible adults. Well, put like that I suppose I can see the allegorical application to Havilio’s named monsters.
Perhaps I should reread this book, because nothing in this novel is quite what it seems as Guardiolo-Rivera, convinced of its masterpiece status , exhorts. Then again, perhaps I should just acquaint myself with Borges. I don’t think he’ll be anywhere near as grubby.