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Fiction Review Disorienting tales of intimacy, obsession and death

Southerly
by Jorge Consiglio
(Charco Press, £9.99)

ARGENTINA has a long and rich tradition of high-calibre short-story writers, Roberto Arlt, Jorge Luis Borges, Silvina Ocampo and Samantha Schweblin among them.

They all have in common a natural capacity to depict the everyday in ways that reveal hidden truths, sometimes exposing the violent forces of nature, the ambiguities of social relationships or the full power of human obsessions.

Jorge Consiglio joins their ranks now with his short-story collection Southerly, the first to be translated into English.

Employing a language that is sharp, concise and visceral, it proves his talent as a natural storyteller and as a social chronicler and poet of some refinement.

The collection of seven stories begins with Southerly, the tale of Anatol, descendant of immigrants in Buenos Aires, and his friend Dahlmann.

Both move in a dreamlike world that recreates the famous 1953 story El Sur by Borges and, like most of Consiglio’s stories, it recounts the lives of people who encounter the unexpected, the cruel and the monotonous in everyday life.

Travel, Travel narrates the journey of a man who returns to the town of his birth in order to renovate the house in which he grew up and, in the process, ends up lost in the middle of the countryside.

Completely disoriented following a car accident, he seeks help in the muddy fields, where he sees a dark figure — possibly his reflection — approaching.

As in most of Consiglio's short stories, the ending is left open and the sense of disorientation, tension and ambiguity is one that runs through the book.

In The Running Man, a jogger running along a coastal path and the adjoining woods encounters three dead cows and one barely alive. Hours later, deeply disturbed by the strange experience, he returns to kill the ailing animal with his loaded pistol.

He's overwhelmed by a sense of intense joy and, as he finally admits, “I observed it for a couple of minutes, without trying to reach any conclusion... “As I returned home, in the midst of all that freezing desolation, I realised I was at peace and that from then on, things would begin to change.”

Such disturbing moments typify the book and they demonstrate the abilities of an assured writer in search of a language that, in its minute and painstaking precision, is immensely effective.

 

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