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The Tunnel (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – International Edition, April 27, 2011
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'An existentialist classic ... Retains a chilling, memorable power' * The New York Times Book Review * 'Sabato captures the intensity of passions run into uncharted passages where love promises not tranquillity, but danger' * Los Angeles Times * Heralded by Albert Camus and Thomas Mann and widely translated, ''The Tunnel'' is the brief, obsessive, sometimes delirious confession of a convicted murderer. -- Robert Coover * New York Times Book Review *
Text: English, Spanish (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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We know from the opening pages of the novel and from the first encounter between Castel and María Iribarne that these two lovers are doomed to play out a fatal destiny. We expect the descent will be devastating. It is.
The affair begins with the traditional dance: tentative connections, daydreaming, high expectations, misunderstandings, jousting, furtive telephone calls. Looking back after his crime, Castel recalls "how we are blinded by love, how magically love transforms reality."
It is chilling to come upon the first intimations of violence. Sábato is a master of the slow reveal. He is aware of how we, his apprehensive readers, are taking in and digesting the progress of the tale. I was struck by the teasing manner in which he parcels out dialog between the lovers, and how he uses their diverging temperaments (the overly-analytical Castel versus the elusive María) as a means to keep us off-balance. We want to hear more from María, in her own words, unfiltered by the claustrophobic, maddeningly selfish perceptions of the narrator. When she finally speaks honestly to him of her desires, during an escape from the city to an estancia by the ocean ("I can't count the times," she tells Castel, "that I have dreamed of sharing this sea and this sky with you") -- the emotional effect is powerful.
When first published in 1948, and championed by Albert Camus, THE TUNNEL was placed on the shelf with contemporary existentialist literature. It is true Sábato does bow in that direction, as when Castel waxes philosophical:
"There are times I feel nothing has meaning. On a tiny planet that has been racing toward oblivion for millions of years, we are born amid sorrow; we grow, we struggle, we grow ill, we suffer, we make others suffer, we cry out, we die, or others die, and new beings are born to begin the senseless comedy all over again."
But to the 21st-century reader this may sound like window-dressing. The philosophical takes a back seat to the psychological. THE TUNNEL becomes a case study. It is an examination -- or, since the story is in the form of a confession, let us say a self-examination -- by a man suffering through deep psychological trauma. Castel boasts: "My brain is in constant ferment and, when I get nervous, ideas roil in a giddy ballet." Although he fancies himself a superior analytical being, we know better. He is in depression, paranoid and suicidal, a "borderline personality." However you choose to label the source of his downfall, the route to hell is examined with steady skill by the author.
Note 1: Penguin has replaced this particular English language edition (with the black and white photo on the cover) with a reprint edition, with new cover, in honor of the 100 anniversary of the author's birth: The Tunnel (Penguin Classics).
Note 2: A film version of THE TUNNEL was released in 1988; Peter Weller played the role of Castel, and Jane Seymour was María. Three reviews of the VHS tape are posted here: Tunnel [VHS]
Note 3: British writer James Lasdun recently declared: "As soon as you reduce human behavior to a pathology ... it becomes, for literary purposes, less interesting." Lasdun offered that view in a non-fiction book published in early 2013 that may be of interest to readers of The Tunnel: Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked. It is Lasdun's memoir of being obsessively cyber-stalked by a former student. (I've not read it, but some reviews on Amazon praise its effect as akin to that of a first-rate erotic thriller.)
There is a very fine line between brilliance and madness for Argentine artist Juan Pablo Castel as he languishes
in his prison cell for the frenzied murder of his lover Maria.
The novel begins at the end and it's fascinating reading. A novella of obsession, paranoia and love of a very tortured soul. I enjoyed the forward by Colm Tóibín, very insightful.
Most of this novel happens in the painter's head. Interactions, or lack thereof, with the woman lead him to vastly over-think what has happened, and to create fanciful scenarios in explanation of what he does not know. In many cases his invented scenarios drive him to a lather. As the woman's life appears complicated, the painter has a lot to work with.
He eventually becomes obsessed with the woman's life, his knowledge of which is mostly of his own invention. The result is tragic.
Early on I was quite empathic with the painter, for I am one of those who over-thinks interactions with others. But as he moves toward obsession it becomes clear that he in not entirely sane. The denouement is a shock, and shows he has clearly crossed the line to insanity. The transition comes a bit suddenly for me, but I suppose there is no rational process by which someone goes insane.
If you like intense, psychological novels that play out in someone's mind you should like this one. It occurs to me that it is a bit like Dostoevsky writ small. But if you like your fiction to be about "real" actions rather imagined ones this is not the book for you.
The publisher provided me a copy for review.
Note that a 2012 reissue is planned: The Tunnel (Penguin Classics)
Imagine if Camus, Thomas Bernhard, and Hamsun's Hunger had a terrifying child. Now, imagine The Tunnel. There is a delightful misanthropic character about this book, the kind which surfaces in the work of defeated idealists and weary nihilists. But there is love as well - undoubtedly tortured, maddened, romantic love, but a genuine love nonetheless. If anything, this novel represents the "humanistic" existentialism that Sartre desired so fervently.
Ernesto Sabato is one of the most important Latin American authors to have emerged in the last century. Just wait a few years, let some of his startling, erudite collections of essays get translated, and it'll be Borges and Sabato - the beacons of Argentinian literature. And after you read The Tunnel, ignore Sabato's magnum opus, On Heroes and Tombs, for a while, and read the essays collected in The Writer in the Catastrophe of Our Time (trans. Asa Zatz) - they are perhaps some of the most moving, piercing, and intelligent thoughts and theories on literature and human progress I've ever read.