Where There’s Love, There’s Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo

One of the constant joys of reading book blogs is the recommendations for works and authors you’ve never encountered before. So when I read about this book on Jacquiwine’s excellent blog recently, I knew it sounded exactly like the kind of thing I’d enjoy, and promptly tracked down a copy!

And really, I feel very silly not having registered the authors before! Wikipedia says of them:

Adolfo Bioy Casares (September 15, 1914 – March 8, 1999) was an Argentine fiction writer, journalist, and translator. He was a friend and frequent collaborator with his fellow countryman Jorge Luis Borges, and wrote what many consider one of the best pieces of fantastic fiction, the novella “The Invention of Morel”.

Silvina Ocampo Aguirre (July 28, 1903 – December 14, 1993) was an Argentine poet and short-fiction writer.

Both were associated with Borges, who I’ve read in the past and whose Collected Fictions lurks on Mount TBR. So I should have been well aware of them, and read them before – but better late than never!

Where-Theres-Love-Theres-

WTLTH opens with the narrator, one Dr. Humberto Huberman, travelling through Argentina on his way to a vacation by the sea at a hotel run by his cousin. As well as being a medical man, the doctor also has literary pretensions and plans a working holiday, writing a book on Petronius. His arrival at the hotel is a little unusual as the town is deserted, the functionaries uninterested and the ambience less than enjoyable. However, the doctor is unsinkable and eventually after hours traversing the sands he arrives at the hotel. On the beach he encounters some of his fellow guests, including Mary, her sister Emelia, another Doctor, Cornejo, and Emilia’s fiance Atuel. They’re an odd bunch, somehow, and Mary has a narrow escape in the water, nearly drowning.

Back at the hotel we meet the other guests, including yet another Doctor, Pickering, and a very strange secretary wandering round the building with a fly swatter. As the weather takes a turn for the worse and the hotel becomes locked down in a sandstorm, there are murders and confusion. Can Doctor Huberman solve the mystery?

“Atuel was looking out of the window. He called us over. Engulfed in a furious cyclone of sand, we saw the Rickenbacker. For the first time all day, I laughed. I confess: the absurdity of the scene unfolding with cinematic diligence was quite compelling. Out of the car emerged one, two, three, four, six people in all. They huddled against one of the car’s rear doors. Laboriously, they extracted a large, darkly coloured object. I watched them – my eyes tearing with laughter – as they approached the hotel, tripping blindly in the sand, as thought it were the dark of night, struggling and knocking about in the wind, their faces misshapen by the oblique effect of the windowpane. They were bringing the coffin.”

I have to say that WTLTH was an unexpectedly wonderful delight of a book! It was published in 1946, when the Golden Age of detective fiction was well established, and the authors are obviously hell-bent on sending up the genre as much as they can. Dr. Huberman comes across as a blend of Nero Wolfe and Hercule Poirot; he’s obsessed with routine and his meals, and often gives them much more importance than the actual investigation!

The landscape and weather are important too, as the sandstorms in the area are obviously an issue – hotel owner Andrea, Dr. Huberman’s cousin, comments that:

“Two years ago, our lobby was on the first floor; now it’s in the basement. The sand rises constantly. If we opened your window, the house would fill up with sand.”

and it does seem that the hotel is somewhat threatened by the climate. This also allows for the typical closed-community setting so often seen in classic mysteries and also for some wonderful set pieces when various characters run into the storm and are lost and found at various points. The atmosphere is full of existential angst which you wouldn’t normally find in an Agatha Christie, and I think there’s a lot of symbolism here, some of which I picked up but some of which I’m sure I missed. Not for nothing is the local shipwreck called the Joseph K!

The authors looking very cool!

The authors looking very cool!

WTLTH is an affectionate homage to crime novels which is also extremely funny in places; Dr. H himself, pompous and self-absorbed, can’t see how ridiculous he is. Nothing is as it seems as one twist follows another, our perceptions are constantly challenged and changed, identities shift along with our suspicions, and the final resolution is certainly rather unexpected. The wonderful deadpan style is very readable and the authors can deliver killer punch lines – for example, of Dr. Montes, who’s always drunk, Huberman comments:

“The gods, who are not ignorant of the future, usually speak through the means of children and madmen. I also understand that they favour alcoholics.”

I absolutely loved this novella and really wished it had been longer! As it was, I raced through it, probably missing some of the allusions, but I shall definitely revisit WTLTH and also explore more of the authors’ works. I’m so glad Jacqui reviewed it or it might not have come across it – thanks Jacqui!! πŸ™‚

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