A valediction from the noted Argentine writer, known for bringing the conventions of hard-boiled U.S. crime drama into Latin American literature.
L’ennui, c’est moi. First-tier Argentine novelist Piglia’s (Money to Burn, 2003, etc.) literary alter ego, Emilio Renzi, was a world-weary detective when he stepped into the spotlight in the claustrophobic novel Artificial Respiration, published in Argentina in 1981 and in the U.S. in 1994, a searching look at Buenos Aires during the reign of the generals. Here, in notebooks begun decades earlier but only shaped into a novel toward the end of Piglia's life, Renzi is struggling to forge a career as a writer. He has a lot going for him: he has the predisposition to what is, after all, “an obsession, a habit, an addiction,” and he has the capacity to endure the days and nights of endless boredom that the poverty of writing can yield, broken by piles of books and visits to the casino, where he wins a few pesos here and there. “I have, finally, lost my interior life,” he sighs, returning to the grind of reading philosophy and literature, thinking great thoughts about space and time, and taking in Bergman films. Were it not for the starvation, it might make an agreeable life, but as Renzi’s diaries unfold, it’s pretty clear why he might want to find regular work tracking down disappeared intellectuals and murdered trade unionists; apart from the gambling income, he’s got to chase down scant paychecks from universities and publishers and scrape by on anthologizing, forcing him into the indignities of stretching out invisible money to cover very visible needs. “Everything consists of assessing those pure instants, at times when life no longer makes sense,” he laments. The story takes a few detours into the meta—it’s a nice turn that Renzi, himself a fictional writer, learns “what I want to do from imaginary writers. Stephen Dedalus or Nick Adams, for example”—but is mostly straightforward, reading just like the diary it purports to be.
Fans of Cortázar, Donoso, and Gabriel García Márquez will find these to be eminently worthy last words from Piglia, who died at the beginning of 2017.