Bookish serendipity and unexpected kindness can bring wonderful results; and a case in point is the book featuring on the Ramblings today. The work in question is “The Promise” by Silvina Ocampo, an author who’s appeared on the blog on a couple of previous occasions. Best known, perhaps, for her association with Jorge Luis Borges and also with her husband, Adolfo Bioy Casares, she’s seen a recent resurgence of interest in her work and happily seems to be stepping out of their shadows.

“The Promise” (translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Powell) made its way to the Ramblings via the lovely JacquiWine who kindly sent it as a Christmas gift. It was an inspired choice, as I love Ocampo’s writing but hadn’t come across this book before. And after finishing the Perec I felt like spending time with another slim volume, so this seemed the ideal book to pick up next!

Intriguingly, “The Promise” was never really finished, as Ocampo worked on the novella for 25 years or so, right up until her death in 1993. At 103 pages, it’s possibly the longest piece I’ve read by her, and it’s completely absorbing. The book is narrated by a woman adrift at sea; having fallen overboard in the middle of the Atlantic, she makes the titular promise to St. Rita that if she survives, she will write her life story. Bobbing through the ocean, unsure if she is actually dead or alive, the woman looks back through her life, remembering people and events – in effect, writing her life story through her memories and through the narrative we’re reading. However, as the story continues, it begins to be unclear whether the memories are reality or fiction – and whether, indeed, that actually matters…

The only advantage of being a child is that time is doubly wide, like upholstery fabric.

“The Promise” is a really compelling read; written in hypnotic prose, with characters moving in and out of the woman’s memories, it’s an often unsettling experience to follow her thoughts. At times, it seems as if the act of remembering is staving off an inevitable death, although in truth the situation the narrator is in is not really one you can accept as real. However, it allows Ocampo the chance to explore the woman’s life as well as many other lives; in fact, she often seems to be slipping through others’ thoughts and experiences like a ghost , inheriting their memories, which makes you think she may already have sunk under the waves.

As you might have guessed, I absolutely loved “The Promise”; it was fascinating from start to finish, one of those books which lingers in the mind and still has you trying to work it out long after you’ve finished reading it – which may well be what Ocampo intended! If you’re looking for plotted, logical and straightforward narratives, then she’s definitely not the author for you. But if you want to be challenged, provoked, transported somewhere else and have your perspectives a little skewed, I can really recommend reading Ocampo – and “The Promise” would be a wonderful place to start!