Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Past by Alan Pauls

Sophie Ratcliffe reviews Alan Pauls' The Past.
We first meet the hero of Alan Pauls's novel fresh out of the shower. He's standing on the pavement, groin covered by a hand towel, trying to sign for a recorded delivery letter. It's an uncomfortable position, but, by the standards of this novel, a relatively clean one.

Set in Argentina, and translated from the Spanish, The Past follows Rimini, a thirtysomething translator, who spends most of his time masturbating and snorting coke. His addiction, we learn, is a way of facing the void left after the end of his relationship with a volatile blonde, Sofia, who does something involving therapy.

Rimini and Sofia had been inseparable for 12 years. Now they've parted, Sofia seems in need of some counselling herself. She spends her time writing long parenthetical letters to Rimini, recovering from nose-jobs, and stalking him in a yellow plastic mac.

Pauls's account of the two ex-lovers lies somewhere between Fatal Attraction and À la recherche du temps perdu, and their tempestuous relationship offers a good arena for some gnomic abstractions, along the lines of "every love has its beginning … but this by definition is a lost moment" or "every lover is the tardy inheritor of an instant of love they never see".

Halfway through, the novel changes pace, and switches into a cod-biography of a gay artist called Jeremy Riltse whose work had been admired by both Rimini and Sofia. Riltse, the founder of the "Sick Art" movement, had specialised in paintings consisting of real body-parts (called things like "Plaque", "Glans" and "Herpes"), with a sideline in canine gangbangs. He committed suicide shortly after the culmination of his career - a series of pierced canvases entitled "Bogus Hole" achieved during a night of passion with a well-endowed stranger.
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