Thursday, December 06, 2007

Adolfo Bioy Casares - "Asleep In The Sun"

In "Asleep in the Sun" as in "The Invention of Morel", what happens, happens only in the last pages of the book.

In this sense the synopses of both Bioy Casares are somewhat misleading: they suggest a fantastic universe that will engulf the reader from the first pages, when really it's the other way around. What amazes in both books is how "normal" everything seems even with it clearly is not.

What conspires to make it so, is the very ordered and rational way in which both the unnamed narrator of "The Invention of Morel" and Lucio Bordenave tell their stories: they are utterly confused by the events which begin to take place in their lives and the only shred of sanity they can cling to, the only thing keeping them from complete madness is the careful, factual writing of their ordeals.

In "Morel" the journal of events is written for future perusal of persons unknown, while Lucio describes his story to a childhood friend, in order to beg his help. In "Morel" people appear where previously there were none, people who are unable to see or hear the narrator; in "Asleep In The Sun" the protagonist's wife comes back to him after being in an asylum, completely changed. What magic or science have the doctors worked upon her character?

Lucio's story can be read in many different ways of course, one of the most powerful might be as a satyre of modern psychoanalisys. But the important question is the one facing our narrator: if a loved one is transformed into someone devoid of all her faults and endowed with qualities you have always wished for, are they still the same person? Do you still love them?

The question is especially hard for Lucio who has always, if somewhat shamefully, believed he loved above all, his wife's beauty. As she is a very difficult person, one would believe Lucio should feel nothing but gratitude towards the doctors who took her away, for she returns, still beautiful but also loving, obliging, tender and humble.

However, Lucio cannot reconcile himself with the new Diana: she wants to take strolls in places she never cared for previously, has forgotten her most prized ability, cooking; never wants to leave the house except in his company, when before she went out alone and came back late at night, which caused Lucio a great deal of anxiety.

After fending off his sister-in-law's lewd advances in Diana's absence (all the more distressing because she looked so much like her sister); and battling the guilt of having allowed her institutionalization, (in one instance by acquiring a gentle alsatian, also named Diana, for the wife had been wanting a dog)the return of the new Diana is too much for Lucio to bear.

He starts, slowly, to become more and more distressed, and as he looks into his wife's eyes he cannot avoid the question "who are you?". The search for the truth about Diana's character change is finally what will plunge Lucio and the story into the fantastic, behind the walls of the asylum.

It is worth noting that in "Asleep In The Sun" the characters seem to be either wicked or clueless with not much space in between (except for his father-in-law who is both). The message might be that Lucio, and all good-natured people along with him, put their sanity at risk by wanting to find out the truth about the world. And also, that by wanting to seem perfectly reasonable and sane when faced with figures of authority (such as the doctor Samaniego), the insane and the mean, one is always taken advantage of.

More than once, I felt that the only thing that could save kindhearted Lucio was to allow himself a fit of hysterics and rage. But alas, that is the one thing he (or Bioy Casares)will not allow. Even in a world gone slightly mad, Bioy's characthers always believe pondered words will save them. The reader is all the more unsettled because he knows they won't.

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