Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 7, 2016

See You at Breakfast, by Guillermo Fadanelli, translated by Alice Whitmore

See You at BreakfastOver at Jane Rawson’s blog there’s a spirited conversation taking place about the novella.  Is it new?  Is it ‘hot’ or ‘not’?

What’s not new is Giramondo Shorts.  I’ve read and reviewed five of them, starting with Anguli Ma, a Gothic Tale by Melbourne author Chi Vu back in 2012, and that wasn’t the first one.  The series now includes a second translation, (the first was Varamo by Cesar Aira, translated by Chris Andrews) and this one, See You At Breakfast by Guillermo Fadanelli,  is also Latin American, this time from Mexico.

The translation by young Australian Alice Whitmore is flawless.  She captures the unsettling atmosphere of the novel in crisp, effortless prose.

Before leaving, El Alfil looked Ulises in the face.  He seemed like a good man, like all the guys who ended up with his sister, good, cowardly, cry-baby men.

– Look what the good Lord sent us, she said.

Alfil wasn’t jealous.  He looked at Cristina’s men as if they were new scars she would never be rid of.  Every now and again he worried about those scars, and made recommendations.  Once, not so long ago, it had even occurred to him to give Cristina a little tube of pepper spray.

– This is my brother, Cristina said.  They call him El Alfil.  He’s here to protect me, but as you can see he’s had his face broken. (p. 124)

Even with the context missing (which I’m not going to provide because it’s a spoiler), you can see Fadanelli’s disconcerting style.  He is an exponent of what’s called ‘ Mexican dirty realism’ and there is no doubt that his juxtaposition of events and characters will take most readers aback, even if you’ve seen a few episodes about Mexico City on the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program…

See You at Breakfast follows the trajectory of four characters: Cristina, a pragmatic prostitute; Ulises, stuck in a dead-end job and fantasising about the promotion and the women he will never get; Adolfo, a drop-out from veterinary studies who practises anyway; and Adolfo’s neighbour, Olivia – submissive to but not entirely convinced by her parents’ heavy duty religious beliefs.

Self-blame and personal responsibility is a strong theme.  Ulises, who works in a credit office, gives away his refrigerator to an old man because he wants to have, just once, the power to make a decision.  The old man needs a loan because his medication needs to be refrigerated, but the only person who can override the rules to allow the loan isn’t there.

Ulises lowered his eyes.  At thirty-seven years of age he was incapable of resolving a bullshit problem like this.  A Man might die simply because he didn’t have the talent to occupy a position of greater authority.  (p. 19)

For Gertrudina, who alerts Adolfo to TV reports of Olivia’s brutal assault, her daughters are protected from danger because of her prayers, and – mildly resentful of the belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses that only they will get to heaven – adopts a lofty tone.

– You should have heard the cries of her mother, it would have broken your heart.  I pray to God that nothing like that happens to my granddaughters.  Whenever they leave the house I bless them and say a prayer: La Magnifica.  You’ll laugh at me, Señor Adolfo, but let me tell you, nothing has ever happened to them.  We might not be going to heaven, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but at least here on Earth nothing bad has happened to us.  (p. 91)

Adolfo (who has never actually met Olivia) blames himself for the assault.  He thinks that if he hadn’t gone to visit his friend Ulises, he could have been her bodyguard.

If he had been with Olivia nobody would ever have laid a hand on her: he, who had dreamed for so many nights of protecting her, of fighting off her fictional addressors.  He even liked to imagine himself with his father’s rifle, shooting at all the men who came near her.  He would shoot them in the head, watching with pride as their brains splattered against the concrete; he would shoot them in the knees, in the eyes.  It was impossible for him to accept that he had been so uninvolved. (p.91)

Saddest of all is that the crime destroys Olivia’s father’s pride in never having been a violent man, now it seems like a flaw, an unforgiveable defect.

A strong sense of  hard-to-argue-with fatalism also pervades the novel.  Cristina knows that her glue-sniffing brother will die one day, leaving her all alone; she settles for an inadequate relationship because she’s getting older and she wants a little security.  Ulises finds that he’s more in love with a dream than reality.  Poor damaged Olivia changes her appearance to drive home that she will never be the same although others tell her otherwise.  But Adolfo, perhaps the moral compass of the novel or conversely perhaps a character merely offering ironic pretensions, finds that Olivia’s situation gives him the impetus he needs to make some changes in his life.

Curiously, this novella is not as bleak as it sounds.  Certainly, devastating events are juxtaposed with the banality of the everyday, suggesting that in the world of this novella, something awful is happening to somebody, somewhere, even when those closest to the victim don’t know it.  However, while life is tough, life goes on, and there are moments of sly humour, especially from Cristina who is the most savvy of all the characters.

The cover design is just right, alluding to the hidden underclass that peoples the story.  I couldn’t find acknowledgement of the designer.

PS 9/5/16 Thanks to Alice at Giramondo, I can now congratulate the designer of the cover.  It’s the celebrated Aussie designer Harry Williamson who was inducted into the AGDA (Australian Graphic Designers Association) Spicers Paperpoint Hall of Fame in 2010.

Author: Guillermo Fadanelli
Title: See You at Breakfast, first published as ¿Te veré en el desayuno?
Translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore
Publisher: Giramondo Publishing, 2016
ISBN: 9781925336009, 162 pages
Review copy courtesy of Giramondo Publishing.

Available from Fishpond
Or direct from Giramondo.


Responses

  1. Thanks for reminding me about this one, I’ve been meaning to read it. Going to Mexico at the end of the year and want to get a bit more Mexico into my brain first.


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