25 January 2009

Review: La muerte y su traje

Santiago Dabove was a contemporary of Borges and, if JLB's introduction is any indication, something of an eccentric. He had little interest in publishing, and it was only the intervention of his more famous friend that managed to get this book edited and published after the author's death.

The stories here make for an interesting collection of strange stories, somewhat in the vein of Poe. The Poe influence shows up early, with the story "Ser Polvo" ("Being Dust") which seems to want to go Poe one better. While Poe was known to write about being buried alive, Ser Polvo describes a man being converted to earth while still conscious. It's a fascinatingly morbid work, rendered ambiguous by the narrators admission that he's dying and has taken large doses of heroine.

Another work which suggests Poe's "Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", with a little Frankenstein (or Reanimator) thrown in for good measure, is "El experimento de Varinsky" ("Varinsky's Experiment) where a doctor uses a strange device to bring a man back from the dead, with strange results.

As you can see, death is a frequent theme in these stories, as one might expect from works influenced by Poe. Intriguingly, like Leopoldo Lugones or Macedonio Fernandez, Argentine authors publishing in this era, Dabove's work goes beyond copying Poe, incorporating philosophical or scientific elements to plum the uncanny in new ways, a process that would bear fruit with Borges himself.

It is an interesting mix of stories, if perhaps somewhat dark, but I found these little variations on the weird tale to be pretty entertaining.

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