Review: Asleep in the Sun

Asleep in the SunAdolfo Bioy Casares, Asleep in the Sun (trans. Suzanne Jill Levine)

Lucio Bordenave is a fairly ordinary, contented man who lives with his wife, Diana, and an old servant called Ceferina. His life is not without problems, however, and most of them center around Diana, who is very high-strung and always seems to be unhappy about something. Lucio protests that he loves his wife and is generally happy in his marriage…but when a doctor from the nearby sanatorium suggests that Diana might benefit from a short treatment there, Lucio finds himself agreeing. Diana accordingly goes to the mental hospital, and when she returns, she is joyful, loving, and contented. At first, Lucio is pleased with Diana’s “cure,” but eventually he begins to feel that something is not quite right. But when he attempts to get more information from the mental hospital, he is propelled into a nightmarish state of confusion that culminates in his learning the shocking truth.

This is my first book by Bioy Casares, and I’ve read almost no South American literature, so I honestly had no idea what to expect. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this weird little novel. I really liked the narrative structure: Lucio is the narrator for most of the book, and the first page reveals that he is writing to an old acquaintance for help — so you know right away that something has gone terribly wrong. The framework also inevitably raises questions about Lucio’s reliability; is he lying, or has he possibly gone mad from worrying about a perceived difference in his wife that doesn’t really exist? An interesting ambiguity is maintained for most of the novel, but in the end — fortunately, from my point of view — the truth is revealed. I’m not opposed to ambiguous endings in certain circumstances, but I’ll admit that in general, I prefer to have some level of closure. I also want to note that most editions of this book have HUGE spoilers in the cover blurb; the NYRB edition is an especially egregious offender. For this reason, I’d encourage people to avoid plot synopses as much as possible and go into the book “blind”; I promise you’ll enjoy it more that way!

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