Gabriel Casaccia: La babosa [The Slug]
It’s not difficult to see why the Paraguayans did not love this novel. The three main characters are all unlikable characters and, indeed, many of the rest of the characters are similarly flawed. Only the priest has any redeeming features and he is not Paraguayan. However, if you are not Paraguayan, this is a thoroughly enjoyable novel. We start off with Ramón Fleitas, a coiguá, a country boy who has moved to the city. He has a degree in law and married Adela, a lovely lady, whose father has a law practice for which Ramón works. His ambition is to be a writer – he has published some poems – and he is working on a novel. However, he does not like his father-in-law (who, along with his daughter, is one of the few likeable Paraguayans) and soon proves to be rogue. He starts off by sexually harassing Paulina, the maid, who, initially, resists but then succumbs to his charms. He then steals a large sum of money from his father-in-law and loses it all by gambling. He also drinks. Adela is driven out (never to reappear) and replaced by Paulina and her family. He cooks up some devious schemes with one or two other crooks and manages to drink, debauch and steal.
However, Ramón may be the least of the three main rogues. To escape from his father-in-law, he goes round to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where a college friend has just been named minister, in the hope of getting a job. He never gets to see his friend but does talk to Espinoza, nominally the librarian but actually the doorman. Later in the day, after he has gambled most of his father-in-law’s stolen money away, he sees Espinoza at the casino and gives him some money. Ramón loses. Espinoza wins and offers Ramón a bed for the night. Espinoza turns up again later in Areguá, the suburb of Asunción where Ramón lives, and cooks up a devious scheme to rob Doña Clara of her jewels. With the help of his girlfriend, Doña Clara’s servant, he ransacks her house but fails to find the jewels. Doña Clara returns and he hits her with a half-drunk bottle of anis and fears that he has killed her (in fact he hasn’t). They flee but manage to find the jewels just before doing so.
But it is the eponymous slug that is the most fascinating character. She is Doña Angela, sister of the Doña Clara. At the beginning of the book, she lives with her sister but is very bitter towards her. It seems Doña Clara stole the man she loved (he subsequently married Doña Clara and then died). Clara seems to have got the inheritance as their father preferred Clara to Angela (there are, of course, two sides to this story). But her main reason for being called the slug is that she is an inveterate spreader of rumours. It is she that spreads the rumour about Ramón and Paulina having an affair (which, at the time, is not true). Indeed, she spreads so much malicious gossip that the priest threatens to have her thrown out of the church. As the book progresses, she consults lawyers (including Ramón) about suing her sister for her inheritance and then moves out to live with Rosalba and her husband. There is an indication of a lesbian affair. Throughout the book she is deliciously self-righteous and malicious and a wonderful character, which makes you wonder why this book has not had more fame (and not been translated into English).
There is little tidying up at the end. What happens to Espinoza and his girlfriend, to Adela and her father, even to Ramón? We know only about Angela and her triumph over Clara because it is she that this book is about and it is she that makes it worth reading.
First published by Losada, Buenos Aires in 1952
No English translation
Published in French as La limace by Gallimard in 1959
Translated by Étienne Frois