Wednesday, 8 January 2014

the planets [sergio chejfec]

To say that The Planets is a dense text would be to do it a disservice. It almost seems to possess a texture all its own, more akin to reading braille than the printed word. There is a temptation to use the word ‘viscous’, but braille is more appropriate. Lurking beneath the stickiness are subterranean meanings which won’t give themselves up lightly.

Kafka is a point of reference. The text includes visits to a Buenos Aires synagogue as Chejfec acknowledges a semetic tradition. It might be unPC to categorise literature according to race, but the influence of the Torah and the interpretative science it demands would appear to have influenced Jewish writers (and filmmakers, cf Aranofsky’s Pi) through the ages. The reading/writing of a book is a quest to discern hidden meaning, a quest shared by reader and author alike.

Chejfecs narrative, in so far as it can be pinned down, deals with the unnamed narrator’s friendship with “M” (another Kafkaesque touch). M vanishes one day from the Buenos Aires streets. The narrator assumes he has been murdered and also tortured. In spite of the narrator’s assertion that M had no political involvement, he appears to be another victim of Argentina’s dirty war against its own people. However, the novel seems less concerned with the political aspects of M’s fate than the metaphysical implications. In the narrator’s hands, the book becomes an evaluation of loss, and therefore history. (For what is history in the end, except the accumulation of endless loss?)

The book consists of seven chapters, with each chapter a diversion containing its own diversions. Random stories are included, told by half-formed characters who we never really get to know, such as M’s father. The net effect is a gradual overwhelming, or seduction, of the reader. The absence of a coherent narrative is compensated for by the reader’s vertiginous journey into the mystery of Chejfec’s prose, a mystery which appears to be constantly revealing itself without ever letting the reader know what exactly is going on.

The remarkable thing about Chejfec’s book is that, despite choosing to veer so radically from the classical Western narrative model, it proves to be such a delirious reading experience. The Planets succeeds in being both an engrossing text, as well as one that challenges received notions of how the novel can, or should, communicate with its reader.

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