The Tunnel

Ernesto Sabato

First Sentence:         It should be sufficient to say that I am Juan Pablo Castel the painter who killed Maria Iribarne.

First published in 1948, this slim novel was republished last year by Penguin Modern Classics. It is a chilling, confessional novel about murder and obsessive love and brought to mind Pereira Maintains at times. The narrator, Juan Pablo Castel, relates the events that led up to his crime from his jail cell, and offers insights into his thoughts on modern society at the same time. On art critics he says:

They are a plague I have never understood. If I were a great surgeon, and some fellow who had never held a scalpel in his hand, who was not a doctor, and who had never so much as put a splint on a cat’s paw, tried to point out where I had gone wrong in my operation, what would people think? It is the same with painting. What is amazing is that people do not realize it is the same, and although they would laugh at the pretensions of the man who criticizes the surgeon, they listen with nauseating respect to the charlatans who comment on art.

On life and existence itself he says:

Was our life nothing more than a sequence of anonymous screams in a desert of indifferent stars?

And on his own hypocrisy and duality he says:

While one part of me strikes a pose of humaneness, the other part cries fraud, hypocrisy, false generosity. While one incites me to insult a fellow being, the other takes pity on him and accuses me of the very thing I am denouncing. While one urges me to see the beauty of the world, the other points out the sordidness and the absurdity of any feeling of happiness.

Clearly this is a very lonely, unhappy man and this is a very thought provoking, philosophical book. Not very plot driven but a superb psychological study of one man’s descent into oblivion nonetheless..

* * *

Last Sentence:      And so every day the walls of this hell will close more tightly around me.

Last Sentence explained: …because the only person who understood him and his paintings is gone. And now all his paintings do is provide more evidence for ‘their diagnoses’…

More thoughts of Juan Pablo Castel:

The seduction of suicide lies in it’s easy oblivion: in one second the whole absurd universe would crumble as if it were a gigantic facsimile, as if the solidity of its skyscrapers, its battleships, its tanks, its prisons, were nothing more than a mirage, as illusory as the skyscrapers, battleships, tanks, and prisons of a nightmare.

My bitterness now was diabolically triumphant.

And it was as if the two of us had been living in parallel passageways or tunnels, never knowing that we were moving side by side, like souls in like times […]

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