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Ernesto Sabato: El túnel (The Outsider; The Tunnel)

This novel, Sabato’s first, has been compared to CamusL’Etranger. Superficially, this may be the case in that both are a first-person narrative by a narrator who clearly feels himself to be outside the world in the true existential manner. But Sabato’s novel goes further than Camus’ in portraying a man completely isolated from the world.

Juan Pablo Castel is a painter and a murderer. We learn from the first sentence (he is writing his confession in prison) that he has killed María Iribarne. He has courted her for sometime and then finds out, apparently at her instigation, that she is married but that her husband is blind (blindness is a key symbol in Sabato). Their relationship continues, apparently with the knowledge of the husband, but it is up and down as she puts up a barrier that is difficult to penetrate. He begins to suspect that she is having an affair with someone else and finally, in a fit of desperation, kills her.

Castel’s entire narration is a portrait of a man so cut off from his fellow men, despite apparently “normal” relationships with friends and family, that he can only internalise his hopes, fears, dreams and feelings. Does María even exist or is she a dream? Ultimately, it does not matter, for Castel is a man who is the true existential loner and a character that prefigures the heroes of Sabato’s later novels.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish by Emecé 1948
First published in English by Knopf (as The Outsider) 1950 and by Ballantine (as The Tunnel) 1988
Translated by Harriet de Onis (The Outsider), Margaret Sayers Peden (The Tunnel)