These small masterpieces can capture a character’s essence with a revealing thought or gesture
When someone comes to visit from abroad, or from Buenos Aires … it’s like travelling without even having to pack a suitcase,” remarks a character in one of these addictive, offbeat stories by the award-winning Hebe Uhart, who died last year aged 81.
Immersing oneself in this collection – her first book to be translated into English, by Maureen Shaughnessy – is indeed like travelling, as we visit one character’s world and then another’s, inhabiting the revealing mundanities of each life. Little happens in terms of plot; rather, each story is an understated exercise in conjuring a whole existence through a revealing thought or gesture.
Frequently, domesticity mingles with philosophy, as in the opening story “Guiding the Ivy”, a small masterpiece in which we join a woman arranging her plants. Her reflections on the difficulty of tidying up segue into “For as long as I can remember I’ve put off using the hatred one needs to survive”.
Uhart often captures her characters at a moment of seeking order, while simultaneously having to accept the lack of it. In each story, reality feels a little off-centre; the reader returns from her travels feeling refreshingly unbalanced.