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Carlos Droguett: Eloy [Eloy]

Ñato (it means snub-nosed) Eloy (real name Eliodoro Hernández Astudillo) was a noted Chilean bandit, though some have called him a guerrilla, who was killed by the police in 1941. He is famed in Chile. Not only has this novel written about him, there is a film and even a puppet play about him. Droguett’s approach has been to write about the last twenty-four hours of his life. The novel has been hailed in Chile as a key Chilean novel. It is still in print and read. It has been translated into seven languages but not, sadly, English.

During his last twenty-four hours we follow his story entirely from his point of view, though Droguett writes in the first, second and third persons, switching readily from one to the other. Not only does he switch persons, he jumps around in time and place so it is not always clear if we are still in the setting of his last twenty-four hours or some other place he has has visited in the past. The point of this, of course, is to show Eloy’s confused state of mind. Despite his bravado, he is somewhat scared of what is going to happen. He is also very tired.

The action takes place in and around a shack that Eloy has been hiding out in. It is not his shack but owned and occupied by an old man and a young woman. They may well be father and daughter but we are never told. Nor do we or Eloy ever learn their names. They are clearly very poor, judging by the shabby furniture and ragged clothes.

He is attracted to the young woman and even suggests to her that he will come back and visit her later when he has managed to escape the police, who are on his tail. He will eventually throw both of them out and they escape, presumably to tell the police about him. He even imagines what they will say. He had asked the woman for some wine, the strong, rough country wine which warms you up but she has none, at which he is bitterly disappointed. No doubt, he thinks, they will tell the police that he is a drunk.

Much of the time, he is thinking back to the past. In particular he thinks about Rosa and Toño. Rosa is his wife/lover and he clearly has been very fond of her, despite his attraction to the woman in the shack, and thinks a lot about her and their life together. He has not, of course, been a good husband and Rosa has often been scared of both him and his likely fate. Toño is their young son and he is clearly very fond of him and wishes to be a good father. Toño has health problems – weak lungs – and Eloy has been worried about him. Indeed, one of his plans for when he escapes is to buy some new shoes for Toño.

In addition to Rosa and Toño, he thinks about his life as bandit. He has spent time in jail but survived. He fled to Argentina. He has been very ill and been injured. Overall, he admits has has little to show for his life of banditry. He has had lots of adventures and escapades, some of which he tells us about and is seemingly quite proud that he has killed a lot of people, particularly policemen. He plans to kill some more. (It is estimated that he killed at least twenty people.)

When he is not thinking about his past life and making plans for his future life – buying shoes for Toño, buying a new jacket for himself, rejoining Rosa and Toño – he is thinking about the present. As mentioned, he pushes the old man and woman out, feeling sorry for them (the old man is whimpering). Initially, he is unsure how near the police are and, indeed, how many they are. Nevertheless, he is confident that he can make his escape.

We follow the arrival of the police from his perspective. He sees horses, hears breathing, is shot at. Initially, they miss but firstly his ear is shot and then he is hit in the leg. None of this really deters him as he still feels he can make an escape. He has a rifle and two revolvers and plenty of bullets. Eventually, he leaves the shack and tries to hide in the forest. He then realises the police may be in the shack and he could perhaps burn it down.

At this point he seems to start hallucinating. He sees lights and hears the police moving round. However, he also hears a child crying and a man coughing. He imagines seeing Sangüesa, a relative of Rosa, who, he feels, has betrayed him. He is still thinking of his past life, of Rosa and Toño and of his career as a bandit.

What makes this novel so special is Droguett’s portrayal of Eloy as a man who lives simultaneously in the past, present and future, jumping between the three at will, so we can never be entirely sure whether what he is describing is happening now, has already happened some time in the past or is something he is planning for the future. Droguett’s technique of using the third person (the omniscient narrator), the second person (either the narrator speaking to Eloy or Eloy talking to himself) and the first person, all interchangeably, adds to the picture of Eloy’s troubled and confused mind. He claims not to be scared but then admits to a certain amount of fear. Nevertheless, even after he is wounded in the leg, he is convinced he can make an escape and is still planning for the future, buying a jacket for himself and shoes for Toño. It certainly is an excellent novel, shown by the fact that it has been translated into seven languages (but not English) and is still in print in Chile.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish 1960 by Seix Barral
No English translation
First published in Dutch as Eloy by Uitgeverij De Bezige Bij in 1964
Translated by Annie Sillevis
First published in French as Eloy by Francois Maspero in 1977
Translated by Fanchita Gonzalez-Batlle
First published in German as Eloy by Suhrkamp in 1966
Translated by Helmut Frielinghaus
First published in Italian as Eloy by Lerici in 1962
Translated by Francesco Tentori Montalto
First published in Portuguese as Eloy by Codecri in 1961
Translated by Cecília Zokner
Also translated into Danish and Polish