THUS WERE THEIR FACES – Silvina Ocampo

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THUS WERE THEIR FACES by Silvina Ocampo

Introduction by Helen Oyeyemi
Translated by Daniel Balderston
Preface: Jorge Luis Borges

NYREV, Inc. 2015

My previous reviews of older or classic books HERE.

I intend to real-time review this book’s fiction as, when or if I read it. This review will appear in the ‘thought stream’ which you can find below or by clicking on the title of the post.

Review by Des Lewis

46 thoughts on “THUS WERE THEIR FACES – Silvina Ocampo

  1. FORGOTTEN JOURNEY
    “Before they were born, children were held at a large department store in Paris;…”

    This is a beautiful short short, a theme and variations on the nature of birth and the legends or lies about the nature of their birth as seen by the babies and growing children themselves.
    I don’t want to start this review on a self-indulgent note but this piece reminds me of what I wrote here, viz. [[ There is something beautifully but disturbingly striking about Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel ‘The Buried Giant’ that I started real-time reviewing yesterday. It as if my conceit – the one in ‘Nemonymous Night’ where the characters have their ignition and initial development of self-identity and relationship as babies and infants slowed down and stretched onward into their adult lives – now crystallised… ]]

  2. STRANGE VISIT
    “Elena had incredibly black hair, and her face was so transparent that it was as if it had been erased;…”

    As I read another short short from this book (the next work is a novella by the look of it!), I started thinking about real-time reviewing translations. In the past, I have placed translations under the gestalt dreamcatching process, such as two major novels by Thomas Mann, and two works by Denis Diderot. I try to treat each work as it stands outside of context, so it doesn’t really matter whether it is a translation or not, and ‘Strange Visit’ is exquisitely written, prose-perfect for its subject-matter. And the textured play of words makes this seem as if it is the alpha source rather than a beta product. It is in tune with the previous work, with childhood wonderment, at things strange and lovely and unrequited and adult-worrisome.

  3. Delacroix

    Delacroix

    THE IMPOSTOR
    Pages 11 – 30
    “He had dared to give up everything for nothing.”

    The first third of this novella is another ‘strange visit’, but this time by a man or youth to another man or youth in a decaying abode, one protagonist accused of spying for the other’s father. In contrast to the previous short shorts, this has a rather pre-emptive, cruelly landscaped, masculine tone, stitched with rain. Reality and dream as a diptych, not the Delacroix painting of a tiger attacking a jaguar, because as far as I can tell there is no such painting. But a jaguar did attack a horse in Delacroix, and one of these protagonists is rumoured as having once blinded a horse.
    Algebra. A lagoon with swans. Precarious friendship. Unrequited love on a train journey. A terrible Indian chief. A carved monster with double mermaid tails. And much more. I am so far trapped by this novella.

    “I have heard more than five hundred different kinds of rain in this room.”

  4. (THE IMPOSTOR) Pages 31 – 51

    “Why did everything remind me of something else?”

    I seem to have latched on to something insignificant with the Delacroix reference in the previously reviewed section – or so I thought at the time! Now a deeper significance, perhaps. And that is all a bit like my process (as impostor?) of dreamcatching / gestalt real-time reviewing books, i.e. picking up the ‘reincarnations’ or memories of the text as a trial of coherence, just as the main protagonist picks up the memories as ‘reincarnations’ or dreams from his own lifetime. ‘Objective correlatives’ as well as people, as he puts his hand on the heart of his changeably named unrequited lover, as we in turn try to feel the pulse of the heart in this text itself. Meanwhile, his relationship (involving a rivalry in their love lives?) with the other male protagonist – who is often a ruthless, sceptical, accident-prone individual – develops as my own relationship as the reader develops with the text and its Delacroix painting (if such a painting actually exists).

  5. image(THE IMPOSTOR) Pages 51 – 71

    “When two people fight it seems as if they are embracing.”

    I dare not take the inner envelope of this text from its outer envelope in case it turns out to be a different envelope – or, at worst, a plot spoiler. This is a fascinating work, a dream-reality symphony with, in my terms, its own coda by a different composer from the one who composed the symphony. A text that plagiarises its own dreams, as the protagonist explicitly feared doing. A text that spies on itself, by being cruel to be kind, writing to its father, as if the father is its author, or its narrator, or some hybrid narrator? It is like that earlier rocking-chair that is on a hair-trigger alert of rocking at the slightest breath from the reader. An exquisitely ruthless work. Not cruel to be kind, but vice versa. Jaguar or tiger, or both as one?

    “We end up thinking we are crazy when we suspect someone else of being crazy.”

  6. “Most memories are false, but when I am faced with the only true memory, which is death, I have then no need for it.” Rachel Mildeyes (source: here in 2008)

    AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF IRENE

    “…the only sad part about death, about the idea of death, is knowing that it cannot be remembered by the person who has died…”

    This is substantive story, a further theme and variations on the growing up process self-identified in ‘Forgotten Journey’ as reviewed above, with concepts of memory and love and death and religion permeating the thoughts of this Argentine girl, then woman. It is so Proustian it even mentions little cakes as madeleines. A text utterly rich with original wisdoms, homilies, proverbs, poignancies, through the eyes of this woman – and through several ‘objective correlatives’, simple domestic ones as well as poetic ones and the ultimate religious or iconic ones. I cannot do it justice here, but I’ll mention two possibly ‘off the wall’ comparisons, one with ‘The Impostor’: she watches two men fighting where their struggle is like an embrace, the death agony of one and the gasping terror of the other being a sign of reconciliation. The other comparison between anagrams ‘astute’ and ‘statue’ (both words used in this translation), where the latter state of being can lead to the former. A synaesthetic eschatology.

  7. THE HOUSE MADE OF SUGAR

    “…the initials of her name carved on the trunk of a cedar:…”

    Another love affair surrounding possible doubles, name changes, name carvings as well as, here, a treatment of bespoke superstitions – one of which concerning a fitting dress seems to be based on something more than preternaturalness, having some bearing on the eventual entropy of the affair… An ellipsis of deadpan images, like the house made of sugar, that somehow mean more than they mean.
    It has gradually occurred to me, as clinched by this particular work, that those who enjoy Silvina Ocampo fiction will also enjoy that of Ursula Pflug (my reviews linked from here) and vice versa. A sort of hippy fluidity of identity and image with a Proustian tone.

  8. MIMOSO
    An odd absurdism about a dead pet dog, and the embalming arranged by its lady owner. Hubris and nemesis? It was all well and good feeding someone the ‘meat in hide’ but one mustn’t forget that Mercedes had kissed it earlier, I feel. I wonder if this piece will grow in significance through hindsight of this book’s later reading?

  9. These current works being relatively short ones, I accidentally missed out the following story that should have preceded ‘Mimoso’…

    THE CLOCK HOUSE
    …where tellingly there is a puppy, under a nine year old child’s bed, that “cries when moonlight comes in the window” and that same child who is talked to, as if he is a dog like Mimoso. It is the child who writes this story himself in the form of a letter to ‘Miss X’, conveying a child’s eye view of grown-up cruelties hardly understood, so resonant of this whole book so far, involving many child-like evocations such as a clockmaker with a hump and laundry where the adults try to iron it out. Poignant readerly edge of weeping…

  10. THE SIBYL

    “‘Sluggard’ they called me when I ran, ‘Express Train’ when I walked slowly, ‘Pigpen’ when I had bathed, ‘Palmolive’ when I hadn’t. But what most infuriated me was when they called me ‘Pizza,’…”

    A pre-Pfluggian story ‘inventory’ (a word explicitly used in the text). Of names, objects, object correlatives, playing cards – a child’s eye view of grown-ups again, that of a small girl, but her view is filtered narratively through the hippy-like view of a strikingly self-characterised burglar with a beard whom she thinks is her promised ‘lord’…

    “Everything you do to avoid attracting attention to yourself ends up attracting it.”

    “All around me I saw statues, candy dishes, miniatures, necklaces, fans, reliquaries, dolls.”

  11. THE BASEMENT

    “One mouse, the boldest is named Charlie Chaplin, another is Gregory Peck, another Marlon Brando, another Duilio Marzio; the playful one is named Daniel Gélin, another is Yul Brynner; one female is Gina Lollobrigida and another is Sophia Loren.”

    A short short inventory story of a hippy and happy lady in a derelict basement, a basement in a derelict, one with playful trusting companionable mice, and her supposed ‘clients’. A down and out up and down. Literature’s essence of plangent stoicism.

    “For the last two days the mice have been acting very strangely: one brought me a ring, another a bracelet, and a third, the smartest one, brought me a necklace.”

    But why smart in bringing the necklace?

  12. THE PHOTOGRAPHS

    “That tramp Humberta fanned herself with a flower to attract attention. No matter how much you wave it back and forth, how much breeze can you make with a flower?”

    A flower as a flow-er perhaps would be better? This story flows as a perfect conjuration of a 14 year old girl’s birthday party and its gathered guests, artful evocation of characterisations, decorated comestibles, and fancy fans or other objects, then the slow accretion of the reader’s knowledge of the birthday girl’s fey backstory, and the photographs taken, old-fashioned ones of course, but still croppable if, say, the feet come out wrong. This story itself croppable, too, from or by death. But whose?

    Another story inferentially if not directly observable of grown-up antics by one not yet grown-up, not yet grown-up through time’s duration or health’s? An itinerary rather than an inventory? Another forgotten journey.

  13. MAGUSH

    “‘But even dogs have a destiny,’ I protested. / ‘Dogs can’t avoid it: they’re obedient.'”

    From thar 14 year old birthday girl to a 14 year old boy who scries discrete autonomous exchangeable destinies from the tenanted windows of a building, in a similar manner as the girl in ‘The Sybil’ scried playing cards. Another story about stoicism, a stoicism of destinies that are selflessly accepted or given as long as they are extraordinary enough. This book is scryable like that building.

  14. THE OBJECTS

    “Like an inventory, in reverse chronological order,…”

    You can’t imagine how satisfying it is for those words to return to me like objects in themselves. But this new example of an inventory story is one that is very disturbing, where coincidence becomes a curse of objects, and worse. A story of a woman who, complacent at losing objects, is pursued by objects she once lost. A mixed blessing. It is also the first story in this book, I think, where author and reader are on direct talking terms. A meta-Rhys Hughesian tone, coupled with a Ursula Pfluggian one.

  15. THE FURY

    “(The pink angel was less important than the blue one.)”

    The male protagonist importunes a woman, by telling someone else about it. A woman who caretakes an irritating child with a relentless drum. A woman who then tells the man telling the other man about her backstory of accidentally killing another girl who was her friend by setting fire to her costume angel wings. Layers of proximate cause. The suddenly astonishing concept of lessening a past cruelty by creating greater cruelties today. Like this story itself does. I’d’ve killed that damn drummer, too! Virtual fury is as strong as real fury? Only literature can create reality? Words like drumbeats.

  16. AZABACHE

    “In Marseille I found a doctor to sign a document certifying that I was crazy. It was easy for him to do because he must have been crazy himself.”

    That reminds me of the quote I made from ‘The Impostor’: “We end up thinking we are crazy when we suspect someone else of being crazy.” And this story has a horse, too, an eponymous one. Human Equus. And a stoicism of romance. As well as a dying struggle as embrace. A text imbued with a deadpan-ness like an inventory of emotion, leading toward some sinking feeling… Another autonomous destiny.

  17. THE VELVET DRESS

    “Velvet is very sticky, ma’am, and it’s hot today. Let’s put on a little talcum powder.”

    An eight-year girl’s view of her friend who looks like her mother fitting an irritating woman who acts like a dragon, fitting her with a velvet dress. It’s a perfect story: rub it one way, and it is smooth. Rub it the other way, and it is rough. And the ending reminds me of the horse Azabache just now stuck in the swamp. How amusing!

  18. LEOPOLDINA’S DREAMS

    “We had to cross the swamp, and one of the mules sank in.”

    In contrast or similar to the lost objects in ‘The Objects’ turning up again, here what inventory of objects that this ancient lady, as viewed and narrated by the youngest in the family, dreams about turns up on her waking lap. Bracelets, necklaces, pebbles, &c. &c., so all the girls want her to dream of valuable things. Except the narrator turns up at the end like this book’s Mimoso come back to life by narrating that she does! And why her name didn’t begin with L like all the other girls in the family. This is not a plot spoiler so much as a deadpan miracle, more miraculous even than a Virgin Mary appearing as a vision near the spring at dusk, where this story began. This book’s stories seem to make deadpan miracles from connections and inventories, without recourse to intent.

  19. THE WEDDING

    “The dressmaker had Arminda try on the dress five times.”

    Another bird’s eye view by a precocious small girl, here a six year old, I gather, who rubs realities with her grown-up friend and that friend’s friend who is getting married. A sticky hot day again with a dress’s trying-on, and a sudden death again, possibly caused by the child’s naive take on the hope charm of a spider in a box transferred into the bride’s hairpiece. I blame the friend not the girl for the friend’s friend’s fate. She should have known better about telling the girl that a spider could bring hope. Hmm, perhaps it did bring hope, after all, thinking aloud, at least for that girl’s grown up friend? Reading between the lines.

  20. VOICE ON THE TELEPHONE

    “Everything is connected. So I’m crazy? Maybe.”

    Matching connections that lead aptly to an obsession with matches. This child’s eye view of grown-ups is from a grown-up inside the telephone telling me through the grown-up she has become about her life as that child whose view we visualise in the itemised rooms of a very large house, full of many equally itemised objects like bracelets and necklaces, another children’s party, bust measurements (cf the Velvet Dress), a feisty chef, hair in the pudding but whose hair, hollow toys replacing the ornaments in the cabinets, and a musical dying fall of a perfect ‘objective correlative’ ending. And that’s not to speak of the fire…
    Paradoxical Ocampo somehow vaguely delineates and adumbrates her book’s universe with meticulous precision.

  21. imageTHE PUNISHMENT

    “Shame covered my body, like a dress that’s too tight, with too many snaps and ties.”

    This is tantamount to an in-denial monologue by a woman addressed to her lover or partner, but referring to him in the third person by name. It is initially puzzling, even dry – until it falls into place with a flowing jolt, if jolts can indeed be flowing. It is poignant and frightening, even shocking by the end, as you realise (SPOILER!) that she is talking retrocausally about her life’s events and friends but as if they are a Proustian series of memories in linear forward motion, as imbued with the icons and doubles and mirrors of ‘The Impostor’ and other stories,
    The man rocks her as if she is an infant.

    “Instead of wearing a bracelet on my wrist I wore a rosary.”

  22. THE PRAYER
    “Has anyone ever hidden in one of Your confessionals?”

    From a monologue addressed to her lustreless man, absconding in the mind to other lovers, a monologue that the previous story contained, here her prayer, in the shape of a similar monologue, is to God addressing Him as the upper case You. The crosscurrents between the stories – mixed, here, with a sidestory of giving a young boy sanctuary from a wrongful lynching for murder – are tantalising. The You she addresses: is it really You or Me, each a reader, or the Author? All of us are omniscient vis-a-vis this story in our own ways. Giving sanctuary to the woman. The reward she seeks in the last sentence. For there is no God other than Me. Mine and yours, this Me. But which the Impostor?
    Reading this today is more powerful than having once written it?

  23. FRIENDS
    “Does he think prayer is something like playing with dolls?”

    An apposite story to sit opposite the previous one. Here the two small boys are friends, one who Is seen to be pious. And the question is to whom this boy prays: God or the Devil?This time, not to Me or You, it seems. A prayer with telekinetic power, whichever the one to whom it is addressed. But, like the jaguar and the tiger in ‘The Impostor’, or the horse that sinks in the swamp, this work has a telling message for those of us fully following the audit trail of these stories so far.

    “Cornelio prostrated himself on the floor like a Muslim.”

  24. REPORT ON HEAVEN AND HELL

    “…Heaven and Hell have galleries full of objects that will surprise no one, since they are the same things that usually fill the houses of the earthly world.”

    “If the wind roars like a tiger,…”

    “The angels and demons will confuse your spirit…”

    This very short short, about the over-avid choosing of Heaven possibly sending you to Hell for such ultra-piety, is apposite again to sit opposite the previous story and in turn the one before that. And indeed it seems serendipitously to sum up the whole book so far, by inventory and invention.

    ‘ Tiger, Tiger…’ – William Blake

    I note the next story in the book is eponymously entitled ‘Thus Were Their Faces’, but I think I will leave reading that for another day.

  25. THUS WERE THEIR FACES

    “…they lost the indifference (but not innocence) so characteristic of childhood, the children could think of nothing else.”

    Instead of a child’s eye view of grown-ups, this is vice versa by precarious empathy. Can we truly remember the child in us? Another forgotten journey? I am astonished / delighted that the infancy-audittrail (described in my review of this book’s first story) is now not only stretched and slowed into adulthood but extrapolated here into the concept of a classful of forty children in the wilderness of adulthood, couched at one moment as merged in unproductive sameness of mind and face, and the next moment as a rapturous flight into angelhood. There is also a symbiosis with objects, such as shoes. Identities as names, all flower names. How much breeze can you make with a flower, I wonder again? In contrast to their “fingernails, which were hard as a tiger’s claws;”
    And this book’s stories continue to make deadpan miracles from connections and inventories, without recourse to intent.

  26. REVELATION
    “Death didn’t keep us waiting long. She arrived the next morning:”

    A little gem.
    To crop or not to crop, as prefigured by ‘The Photographs’, here not the cropping of feet but of death posing with you. Here it is a mentally abused boy then man, a star’s eye view, where even celebrity is mortal. The moral: you can bear the brunt of any misfortune if you turn out correct about predicting it. Retrocausally.

  27. VISIONS

    “Don’t I like Blake’s drawings? These visions seem to come from ‘The
    Book of Los’ or ‘The Gates of Paradise’. An endless series of black horses with gleaming harnesses cover the wall.”

    Cover or covers, little matters, as the many are within the one. This is a substantive story of a woman in what we suppose eventually is a hospital room, as she accretes visions, some religious including an icon of the Virgin that is important to many of these stories, the one among the many. As she accretes some sense of place. Her cumulative visions are of presumably real carers, nurses and explicit ‘objects’, while others visions are simply visionary, or nightmarish; some synaesthetic or gorily medical. With death as the perfect goal of darkness or non-existence; strikingly expressed as the state of being present at this most important time in one’s life. A patient of Job. This whole book seems to be a book of Patience. Blake’s Book of Job as mentioned here in this ‘Visions’…

    “How is it possible that I never before heard such a well-known melody?”

  28. THE BED
    This is an enigmatic short short. I read it as love being indelibly love/hate, one feeding off the other, protecting from the fire by stoking it, then quenching it, then stoking it again… the fire from ‘The Fury’ ….as well as the fire from ‘Voice on the Telephone’, an ‘obsession with matches’, love matches…

  29. image
    LOVERS

    “…they would go to the Recoleta, next to the wall of the old age home, where children hide after breaking the streetlights…”

    After the ‘little cakes’, earlier in this book, those Recoleta ‘madeleines’, we have the time-abstemiously regularised trysts of a pair of lovers, in an orgy of cake eating, scrumptiously described and meticulously picked over.

  30. THE EXPIATION

    “Luckily there wasn’t a mirror in the room, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to resist the temptation to look at myself instead of looking at those stupid canaries.”

    But which is worse? Translator? This longer difficult work seems to have an interweaving of the female narrator’s real life and her envisaged life that she predicts recalling, on the point just before her death, the latter life involving marriage to Antonio and his obsession with canaries, their poison-tipped arrows and his friend Ruperto. Her latter imaginary life seems to approximate closer and closer to her current real life. A destructive symbiosis of self and self’s image? Or a destructive symbiosis of Ruperto and Antonio in a similar manner to the gradually blending male protagonists in ‘The Impostor’? This story defeats me. Is it the story itself or its translation that is to blame? One looking in the mirror at the other and seeing something else?

  31. ICERA

    “So many children growing older and old people turning into children!”

    An enchanting tale of a small child’s eye view of the act of growing up, rather than of the grown-ups themselves, this time, so much so that she yearns to stay as small as the toys she loves in the toy shop. I don’t think I would have fully understood this absurdist story without the gestalt of the book so far that I have been constructing alongside it with this review. The unexpected introduction of the photographer – to crop her to fit??

  32. THE PERFECT CRIME

    “Meringue kisses.”

    A very short story filled with many ingredients: love, favouritism, transgression, cooking up a plot to kill someone without anyone knowing who did it, whatever the human collateral damage otherwise. Ruthless and puckish. Like this book. With its choice of a perfect reader: me.

  33. THE MORTAL SIN

    “…you could hear the plumbing run past the countless bedrooms and living rooms in the house, rooms where there were glass cabinets, a small altar with images of the Virgin, and sunset glowing on the ceiling.”

    Prose clottingly religious, confessionally textured – salacious or concupiscent, too. The ‘you’ is a girl roughly at first communion time, as if YOU are in collusion if not communion with her. By speaking the author’s words at her. A spy upon a spy spying upon you. Till you realise, in astonishing premonition of these changing days of regression and recrimination, you’re being cast as little better than Chango as a former Jimmy Savile like character, you infer, until you realise that you are equally abused by her, when a phrase about a wig towards the end reveals, to you at least, that here’s Icera again. Whose sin is mortal?

  34. THE GUESTS

    “…there were two crude magnetic dolls that couldn’t resist kissing on the lips, their necks stretched out, as soon as they were within a certain distance of each other.”

    A boy spoilt in two senses, by disease as well as by indulgent parents. They promise him generous presents from the holiday he is missing through his illness, and he is told that nobody would be coming to his birthday party for fear of the guests catching his disease. Yet the maid lets in a group of girls, with dubious behaviour and dubious presents. Each precocious, like those dolls. Each another version, I guess, of Icera, a name that sounds like a disease in itself! A book spoilt, too, by these plot spoilers from an indulgent reader.

  35. MEN ANIMALS VINES

    “What color were those eyes? The color of the marbles I picked out at the toy store when I was a boy.”

    A Robinson Crusoe like horror narrative or threnody, after crashing in an aeroplane into the jungle, with, now, no plane or other passengers evident. Many strands of the central vine here, gradually evolving into one vine containing him, swaddling him, and then there are the eyes, the eyes watching him, the claustrophobic paranoia of the jungle: a list as the story’s title, a list, too, given of the things he hated about the city, but now the jungle becomes almost as bad? The vine is like the gestalt reached by a real-time review such as this one, possibly strangling the reviewer? I gradually thought, before reading this latest story, that I was succeeding in reaching the soul of this book, of this author, who she is, who she was, what she created from her fiction, leitmotifs into gestalt, but is this the soul or gestalt of the book’s translator rather than of the author herself? Then, I noticed, at the end of this story – SPOILER – that the narrator lied earlier in the story and is a female.

    “Smelling like a dog — will I turn into a dog?–“

  36. LIVIO ROCA

    “The robe was a sort of relic that lay at the feet of the Virgin, painted green, with a broken foot.”

    A man whose life, as seen by a nine year old, reminds me of this book’s erstwhile embracing and struggling fight. A centaur? Kill part of him, you kill all of him.

  37. THE DOLL

    “Motionless, I always watched that kiss, a gesture that remained deeply engraved on my memory. It seemed to me that a secret form of voluptuousness always presided over such moments: it was a morning of sunshine and ripe fruit, an evening when the garden was covered with dew.”

    That kiss, a Proustian memory, a Proustian unrequitedness, a Proustian search for the mother’s kiss, a Proustian exquisiteness of prose, this time a girl seeking that kiss not a boy, surrounded as she is, within her own girlhood’s eye, by a blurring group of characterful carers, coming in and out of focus, some more uncaring than others. An orphan of the words, a foundling or changeling hanging upon each paragraph’s edge, charged with being a witch, and then the doll she predicted, is brought along, I infer, by a grown-up, merely to prove the girl could predict like a witch. In a similar way, I am criticised or ridiculed for drawing comparisons, synchronicities, serendipities into preternatural gestalt during my real-time reviews, while all the time the authors created them in the first place with their full knowing that I would be thus criticised or ridiculed for what they put within the book right from the start. A doll calling Mama or Papa.

  38. CARL HERST

    The previous story (THE DOLL) has this in it: “Juan Alberto said that dogs were like people:” and this very short short is about a man that becomes A DOG… I think.

  39. THE MUSIC OF THE RAIN

    “It’s useless to debate with geniuses,”

    Among all the tough competition, this is my favourite story so far, with a pianist arriving at another pianist’s house to perform. Amid the sound or rain and thunder, he insists on setting up the piano like a John Cage ‘prepared piano’ to give it a special dreamy quality, and there are lists of classical piano composers’ pieces that he now performs for us, lists to accompany the earlier lists in this book. I note not only a tone of harmony between Nature and Art but also a disharmony or rivalry between pianists, with this little pianist – does he really play with his toes? – reminding me again of Icera, now in male form, and of children as grown ups, grown ups as children. A masterpiece, summoning, I sense, the soul of Ocampo.

  40. SHEETS OF EARTH

    “…during the daytime in a garden, each moment can be the most beautiful, something we don’t notice when we are inside and always surprises us as if we were never aware of it.”

    …like this book, until someone recommended it to me.
    As its self-appointed dreamcatcher, I feel myself embedded in it, like the gardener physically entrammelled by his garden, by this story. Page paper sheets? Or sheets to sleep in? Each of us transcended by Pythagorean metempsychosis. One of us transcended by this book, built from the trees of the forest. The other by the fiction that traps him inside its pages.

  41. AND SO FORTH

    “…and around his neck hung a towel displaying the head of a tiger. When he walked against the wind the tiger’s jaws moved as if it were devouring something.”

    This seems to be the apotheosis of Ocampo. But I have a few more stories yet to read. How can one possibly apotheosise her work any further than this story, though? A list of things by which you need to remember someone, a transmigration into the earth itself, like the gardener in the previous story, but here it is transmigration by mutual embodiment with the sea more than with the earth. But also please factor in the tiger, the unspoken centaur, the embrace as struggle, all from earlier in this book, plus, now, the mermaid, the tamarinds, the body the boys imagine on the beach, this and so much more, and, summoned by rhapsodic prose, so many other things here (fitting and unfitting) that, against the odds, do cohere.

    “He noticed in the center of the table was a vase of centaureas.”

  42. A DOLL’S SECRET MEMORIES

    “I am what I want to be for the whole of undisturbed eternity.”

    This visits realms of apotheosis I could not believe existed. This is where dolls and girls become one. Who owns whom? I simply wallowed in the rich text without really caring what it meant but knowing it meant more than I could ever encompass as a single reader of it without the helpful triangulation of its coordinates by other readers with their own diverse dreamcatching-reviews. Till I reached the final sentence and its mention of ‘the center of the earth’. Then I realised, with due humility, that the soul of this book may at least be connected with what I discovered and publicly stated recently about my only, my own first and last, novel: viz. “the characters’ development from babies as self-identities with inter-relationships slows & stretches into adulthood.”

  43. CORNELIA BEFORE THE MIRROR

    image“‘She has turned into a swan, a true swan.’ / ‘And where is Leda?’ / ‘I am Leda.'”

    This is a substantive work, a theme and variations on ‘The Autobiography of Irene’, as if, post-apotheosis, we the conscientious reader deserves this coda to wind down upon, yet it is more at the earth’s core of this book than the symphony proper, I suggest. It is the ultimate embrace-struggle as a multi-Joycean “Molly’s Monologue” where separate Proustian parts of ‘self’ debate, via Lewis-Carrollian mirrors, with each other, conjuring the ‘objective correlatives’ of dolls as souls (is it a coincidence they rhyme together in English translation), children seeing grown-ups retrocausally whence you, now as grown-ups yourselves, are jealous of their sexual attentions to each other and not to you then – and not to you now before you were old enough for such attentions. Hats, hatboxes and moustaches, mice and shared dreams, burglars and murderers, ambitions to be an actress, sensitive corpses and the flowers they deserve, mirrors and religious visions.

    “‘Why do you disguise yourself?’ / ‘So as not to recognize people.'”

  44. (COM)PASSION

    “I sleep with my dog, but she didn’t like it;”

    A coda’s coda. It is as if the reader meets Ocampo at last, earned her attention. Except the reader she meets isn’t me. I have no dog or canary, although I am messy. As consolation, I note that I was seven years old in 1955 when that last note was written, and we could have met then … if Argentine hadn’t been just another mysterious faraway country in my school atlas or in my stamp album.

    end

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