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Sergio Bizzio: Borgestein
Our narrator is a professional psychiatrist. About halfway through the book, we learn that his name is Enzo. He is married to Julia Navarro. When they were married some eighteen months ago, she was an up-and-coming actress. Now she is a highly successful actress with a huge hit. Accordingly they have only seen each other awake about twice since their honeymoon. Enzo is an early bird. He gets up while Julia is still asleep, gets his breakfast and goes off to work. By the time he returns, she has long since gone to the theatre. As he gets up early, he goes to bed early. By the time Julia returns from the theatre and a post-performance meal with other cast members, he is asleep.
The eponymous Borgestein is one of Enzo’s patients. He is a poet. Borgestein is a serious and humourless man and, in my opinion, without any talent Enzo comments. Borgestein has attacked Enzo twice. The first time, he just hit him. However, the second and most recent time was more serious. Borgestein had not turned up for his last three appointment. Enzo was leaving office when he saw Borgestein approaching him with arms outstretched. Enzo thought he was going to hug him but, instead, he produced a knife and stabbed Enzo. Fortunately Enzo’s shoulder blade got in the way so he only had a gash in the fleshy part of his upper arm and shoulder.
Not surprisingly, this event traumatises him and he decides he needs a break. He buys a remote cabin on-line, leaves a note for Julia and heads out to the cabin. Fortunately, the cabin is pretty much as described on the web. Its attraction is that it is next to a waterfall. Enzo settles in with the aim of spending the time, as he says, smoking drinking, reading and sleeping, which he does.
There are, of course, other people around. A path goes past the cabin and up the hill, which is public and used. He meets two women on bicycles struggling up the hill and learns that there is to be a women’s bicycle race in the area. Coming back from visiting the local village, he sees what looks like the two women fighting. However, when he gets closer he realises that there is a puma on top of one and the other woman is trying to pull it off. He intervenes and manages to chase the puma away and get the injured woman to hospital. It will not be the last time he encounters the animal.
While Enzo is, on the whole, happy in the cabin, there is one thing that perturbs him and that is the noise of the waterfall. The continual sound of water splashing is really annoying. The water falls into a pool. He has measured the pool. It is two metres deep and three metres in circumference. He decides the only way to reduce the sound of the splashing is to fill up the pool with rocks. He sets out do so. This is not an easy task, not least because there are not many rocks nearby that he can carry. He manages to get help from others, including the previous owner, Unsen, who turns out to be a young man. Unsen confirms that other owners had found the noise of the waterfall to be annoying. This becomes an obsession with Enzo.
The wildlife is not all bad. One day he comes home to find a parrot sitting on his kitchen table. It is not clear how the parrot got in and he does not discover how for some time. However, the parrot is friendly and they essentially adopt one another. The parrot has one peculiar quirk. It loves to put its claw into the power outlet and give itself a mild electric shock.
Later in the book, he will return home to find that the parrot is sitting on the table with a girlfriend, a very attractive parrot. Enzo decides two parrots is one too many and removes the newcomer. Parrot 1 has been christened Gualicho, named after a man who accompanied Julia when she visited him, who is in love with Julia though his love is not reciprocated. Gualicho (the parot) also removes himself after his girlfriend is ejected and the two set up home on the branch of a nearby tree and soon they are joined by two baby parrots
Julia does visit him. The first time they are seen together is in a local restaurant and she is recognised. The second time, she tells him that she is pregnant (by him) but that she has someone else. Meanwhile, Sara, who edits a local magazine and is married to a local bigwig who allegedly has murdered three people who stood in his way, asks him to put her touch with Julia so that she can write an article about her. This is done and Sara visits Buenos Aires and writes her article. However, when Enzo sees the article, he notes a photo of Julia and Sara. Right behind them is Borgestein, allegedly still in the asylum but obviously not there.
This is one of those books where seemingly not much happens but, in fact, quite a lot does. We have, of course, the Borgestein story but also Enzo and Julia’s marital relationship, the parrot,the puma, the waterfall, the various people Enzo meets in his retreat and his own state of mind. All too often, he is bordering on depression or, at least, a desire to isolate himself from the world, but gradually realises that he cannot entirely do without people.
Given all that is going on and how well Bizzio merges it all into a single story, this is an excellent novel. The only surprise is that it has only been translated into French and Hebrew and not into any other language.
First published by Mondadori in 2012
No English translation
First published in French as Borgestein by C. Bourgois in 2014
Translated by André Gabastou
Also translated into Hebrew