I can understand why this book doesn’t get any love round here. I assume it is because it’s in Spanish. However, I don’t know why it appears unloved in Spain and other Spanish speaking countries, for it’s a very good book.
It’s one of those short ones that have a middle age male narrator come across some person from his past which provokes some reminiscing and unrest.
Juan, the narrator, a fairly happy middle age pet shop owner, meets up with his old friend, Valle, with whom he was in a pop-rock band many years ago. It could’ve easily been another ‘The Sense of an Ending’ if it was for the fact that Valle, at the end of the meeting offhandedly mentions to Juan that he would kill him. That’s when we know, things are going to be a little more hard core in this one.
Juan is slightly taken aback by this confession (as he would be) and does what any of us would do in such a situation - asks 'why'. Valle kindly offers an explanation which can be summarized this way: “Dear Juan, once upon a time you did that little shitty thing to me, remember? And, now, I am not saying that’s the sole reason my life has turned to mierda but the fact remains my life has turned to mierda, and in the modern world with its multitude of factors and influences, it’s rather hard to establish who is to blame for what, therefore, to keep things simple, I am going to symbolically blame you.”
There is not much you can say to that, is there? From then on things take a rather Kafkaesque turn. Juan can’t report it to the police because Valle did warn him he would deny everything. He also says he values little his own mierda life, he even goes as far as to suggest to Juan that the only way for him to stop him is to kill him (Valle) first (I got too many ‘hims’ in this sentence).
Juan goes from denial to paranoia, as his ‘happy life’ falls apart before his very eyes. The narrative becomes feverish and you could see traces of Dostoyevsky there and some Ernesto Sabato as poor Juan works himself into a corner. At some point he becomes obsessed with a certain elusive (fictional) writer (who weirdly resembles the actual author of this novella) and quotes an entire short story by him. That’s a very Borges-like trick.
That’s probably a bit too much name dropping for a tiny 150 page novella, but what can I say, it is very literary. If I were more well-read I would have been able to elaborate more on this.