OPEN DOOR by Iosi Havilio (translated by Beth Fowler – published by & Other Stories)

“I dream of toads, skirts, orgies and horses”.

The unnamed first person narrator of this story is a young woman who has disturbed dreams and finds comfort in the fleeting strangeness of her experiences.

She may or may not have witnessed the suicide of Aida, a woman she has just befriended and moved in with.

She is a woman given to “complicated introspection” and her constant state is one of uncertainty : “I don’t know what I want……I don’t know what to do” .

When someone asks where she is from she replies vaguely “from far away”.

She’s a real nowhere woman. Isn’t she a bit like you and me?

Although she loses her job as a veterinary assistant, she doesn’t seem unduly concerned. She drifts from the town to the country but she is not noticeably different as a result of the change in location. In one interview, the author comments “tensions never occur in time and space, but only in the eyes of the observer”.

Iosi Havillio

The young woman takes an ageing ranch hand as a lover, Jaime has the same name as his sick horse. He is semi literate, morose, inarticulate, a bad liar and a hopeless lover. In one scene she asks him what he dreams about. “About anything, nothing really” he replies. “And what’s that like?” she asks ; “Always the same”, he answers. What she sees in him remains one of the unexplained mysteries of the novel.

Her more fervent sexual needs are satisfied by a precocious teenage girl named Eloisa.

She feels secure in a morgue which she describes as being “like a small village where everyone knows each other”.

The small town she moves to is in the Pampas and named Open Door after a lunatic asylum.

Open Door is a Scottish system, first established in 1898, that allows people in the mental institution ” to come and go; to move about” and, as there is “nothing to limit the illusion of absolute liberty”  the lunatics don’t feel the need to escape.

It is tempting to regard the open door policy at the asylum as the wider society (and capitalist system?) in microcosm but to do so would be an unnecessarily reductive reading.

It could just as well be argued that the woman’s perspective on the world is what she calls “the precision of chance”. In these terms  it is hard to refute the final stark reflection of the female suicide victim that, ultimately, “nothing has any meaning”.

This is the Argentinian writer’s first novel and it is an intriguing and remarkably assured debut.