Monday, July 23, 2007

Alan Pauls - The Past

Ben Bollig reviews Alan Pauls' The Past.
The past, Alan Pauls' first novel to be translated into English, has arrived with a certain amount of fanfare - including a film adaptation starring Gael Garcia Bernal, an appearance at the Edinburgh Festival and critical comparisons to Proust and Nabokov.

Like Proust's epic, The Past is about memory. A twentysomething Buenos Aires couple, Rimini and Sofia, split up after 12 years together, sharing out friends, possessions and living arrangements. But there is a sticking point: their photographs. Sofia wants desperately to divide up the thousand-plus photos they have; Rimini feels repulsed by the pictures. For Sofia, the images are a visual prompt to aid her perfect memory of their years together; for Rimini, they moor him in the past.

Rimini moves on: a new, younger girlfriend, cocaine abuse, work addiction (he is the most productive of multilingual translators) and compulsive masturbation. He marries and divorces, breaks down and recovers. He even becomes a tennis coach. Sofia, meanwhile, haunts him with recollections at pivotal moments in his life. By the final section of the novel she has become the founder member of a remarkable organisation: the Women Who Love Too Much.

A large proportion of the text digresses from this main narrative: the life and works of a fictional painter and pioneer of 'Sick Art', Jeremy Riltse (one of his pieces involves an attempt to have part of his rectum removed and attached to canvas); the tale of the adman who brings Riltse's 'Bogus Hole' to Buenos Aires; the story of the obsessive lover Adele Hugo; the tragic fate of Rimini's junior-school teacher. After about 400 pages, the novel is even good enough to recap an earlier sequence, presumably fearing that the portrayal of amnesia may have brought it on in the reader.
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