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Andrés Barba on Javier Arancibia Contreras

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GRANTA 121: BEST OF YOUNG BRAZILIAN NOVELISTS
Introduced by previous Best of Young Novelists

Javier Arancibia Contreras is a writer, journalist and screenwriter. He was born in Salvador, Bahia, after his family emigrated from Chile during the dictatorship. He has lived in Santos, São Paulo, since adolescence. Contreras is the author of two novels: Imóbile (2008), which was shortlisted for the São Paulo Prize for Literature, and O dia em que eu deveria ter morrido (2010), for which he was awarded a literary grant from the São Paulo state government. While working as a crime reporter, he wrote a book on playwright Plínio Marcos, A crônica dos que não têm voz, which was part reportage and part biographical study. ‘Rat Fever’ (‘A febre do rato’) is a new story. Here, as part of an ongoing series on the twenty authors from The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue – which was first published in Portuguese by Objectiva – Javier Arancibia Contreras is introduced by previous Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelist, Andrés Barba.

Javier Arancibia Contreras introduces himself in this anthology of the Best of Young Brazilian Novelists with one of those texts you ‘slide’ towards, as if you’d been pushed down some slippery slope. First, there’s the darkness, a darkness like Strindberg’s Hell; then comes the intellectual speech of the Slavic translator and finally the dreamlike figuration of the junkie.

Arancibia manages to reconcile the irreconcilable: dense discourse emerges from a character who never stops being alone, not even for an instant, who converses with ghosts, like Dino Buzzati’s isolated characters. In a way, the narrator lives in the eye of a hurricane, in the heart of a world that collapses and can only be put together again within an onanistic profession, that of a translator of Slavic languages.

After all, the translator’s pleasure is a closed, solitary pleasure, as is his communication from then on with the rest of the world. In this story, the troubled translator’s only interlocutor is, of course, a rat with human vices and traits. The narrator’s mother (a mother who ‘didn’t even like flowers’) has died and he’s broken a leg: he’s physically and emotionally paralysed. He is aware of this and doesn’t hide from it. There is nothing much to do except wait and narrate from the disturbing darkness at the heart of that family house empty of family. This literature not suitable for the thin-skinned – a hit injected directly into the wound. – Andrés Barba, Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists, 2010. Translated by Alfred Mac Adam.

Rat Fever

As I lie on the old spring bed, inherited from Mother along with the house, I get the feeling that night is advancing too slowly. I follow the passage of time on the clock on the bedside table, and I think about how medicine doesn’t bring about drowsiness but rather it has the opposite effect, overwhelming the body with stimulation. In truth, this is more likely due to the constant pain I’ve felt since the accident.

I’m in the bedroom I lived in for twenty-odd years, but despite the familiarity of the childhood toys arranged in orderly fashion on shelves, the unaltered position of the furniture and the recognizable smell of the bedclothes, I can’t stop thinking about how strange the situation is, in particular that it’s the first night I’ve spent here since I left home.

No silence is absolute, and though the flat is remote, it has its own noises. Not the sounds of life you get in the city – televisions, traffic, music, arguments – but rather something that belongs to the house itself, like the creaking of its wooden structure. At least that’s what I think, as the heat starts to conquer every pore in my body and make my mouth and throat suddenly dry. I may be feverish. But it’s so sultry in the small hours that there’s no way of telling. Everything around me, myself included, is warm and sticky.

Translated by Jethro Soutar.

To continue reading this story you can pre-order a copy of The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists, which is available in stores on 8 November, or earlier if you subscribe.

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