One of my favorite books is Adolfo Bioy Casares’s The Invention of Morel (here) (if you haven’t read that wonderful book about loneliness and love, you should correct that immediately). I was ecstatic, then, when I saw that Melville House was publishing, as part of their Neversink Library, a collaboration between Bioy Casares and his wife, Silvina Ocampo, Where There’s Love, There’s Hate (Los Que Aman, Odian, 1946 ; tr. from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine & Jessica Ernst Powell, 2013).
The story begins gravely, as Doctor Huberto Huberman prepares to tell us about a murder at the hotel Bosque del Mar:
The last drops of arsenic (arsenicum album) dissolve in my mouth, insipidly, comfortingly.
Proud Doctor Huberman takes himself very seriously, in stark contrast to the book itself, which is a lot of fun.
Where There’s Love, There’s Hate is a classic English murder mystery set in a seaside hotel. When the book opens, Doctor Huberman says he went to the hotel to work on a screen adaptation of Petronius’s Satyricon. It’s nearly night, he’s studying his beloved Petronius by the window, and he comes across a paragraph that demands reality in fiction. Yes, Doctor Huberman agrees:
When will we at last renounce the detective novel, the fantasy novel and the entire prolific, varied, and ambitious literary genre that is fed by unreality?
But, before he knows it, the lovely Mary Gutiérrez is dead, apparently of strychnine poisoning, and Doctor Huberman himself begins to fill the role of the classic third-party detective, stating for all to to hear: “The dilemma is clear: suicide or murder.”
It’s a funny line that says nothing that is not obvious, but it has that tone; if we were watching a movie, the camera would linger for a moment of gravity before cutting away to another scene. The man who claims to want “reality” begins to treat this murder a classic piece of literature, casting himself as the rational, intelligent member of the group condescending to assist:
I had a melancholy premonition. I thought of my promised vacation, my literary endeavors. I murmured, “Farewell, Petronius,” and delved into the room of the tragedy.
As a conventional mystery, it works quite well, even if this aspect is not the book’s strength. There are several suspects, and the plot twists and turns as we get closer to yet another seemingly false lead. Each guest at the hotel seems to have some reason for committing the crime and some means of ensuring they get away with it. It’ a playful, self-conscious approach to the genre, gracious, respectful, and sarcastic.
For me, the real strength and the source of the greatest fun is the characterization of Huberman, our narrator who hesitates to show himself as anything other than the magnanimous, albeit inconvenienced, hero. There is really only one moment when he begins to admit he was scared and stressed: during much of the book, a sandstorm rages outside, and Huberman gets lost in it at one point, completely unsure where he is or what he knows. He quickly recovers, though, and, despite making what appears to be a blunder later, says:
I will always register my defeats and my victories with equanimity. May nobody call me an ureliable narrator.
My error — if this can be called an error — does not offend me. An ignorant person wouldn’t have committed it. I am a literato, a reader, and as often happens with men of my class, I confused reality with a book.
He got sucked in. Despite his warnings early on, he cannot help but be invigorated by the chase, thinking all along that the mystery would be solvable because, hey, real life is actually less complicated than a mystery plot.
All of this leads to the book’s final line, probably the only line in the book that reminded me tonally of The Invention of Morel. I don’t want to put it here. It may spoil the book, but besides that, it’s a line that’s worth all the build-up. It’s the true mystery.