An intriguing novel that raises issues of truth-telling, domestic deception and metafictional subterfuge.
Clara Griffin is in her mid-40s and dying of cancer. Her husband, Clemente, suggests that she keep a journal of her thoughts as a way of dealing with her impending death. The novel alternates between Clara’s notebook and Clemente’s reading of the entries; however, he discovers more than he wants to—sort of. The first entry recounts Clara’s passionate tryst with her lover, Lionel, who dies of a heart attack after a strenuous sexual encounter with her. When Clemente reads the journal, he’s convinced that Clara is using the jottings to make up a fantasy life because her current life is so painful…but he’s not altogether persuaded that Clara is making things up. His first thought is bewilderment that Clara invented a lover “to whom she had the audacity to give the name of a real person,” for Lionel is a business acquaintance of Clemente’s. Clemente himself has for many years been having an affair with Eliana, an affair he smugly thought he’d kept hidden from his wife, but in her journal Clara makes clear both her knowledge of the affair and her contempt for her husband, whose life of boredom and routine has been a source of anguish for her. Clemente eventually becomes suspicious that Clara has planted the notebook specifically so he can find it, but he remains tormented by its contents and starts to feel “jealousy, impotence, and…rage.” Is she toying with Clemente by fictionalizing events from her life? Or does she convey fundamental truths by disguising and manipulating their reality? Or is she indeed fantasizing a life to compensate for the diminishment of her own?
Raises more questions than it answers, but Subercaseaux (Michelle, 2006, etc.) is able to keep the reader engaged through the depth and intensity of her characters.