Immediately after finishing Juan Filloy’s incredible first novel from 1934, Op Oloop, I flipped to the back page and noted, with encouragement and dismay, that only two of the Argentinian author’s works (fifty-five, I’ve since learned) have been translated into English. I can only read one other, then, but there’s hope, at least, for more cross-language communication. The man lived in three centuries! Somebody throw a pile of cash at (Op Oloop’s translator) Lisa Dillman!
The novel is a hilariously inventive mapcap, structured, and very loosely themed, on Joyce’s Ulysses, which Filloy obviously devoured. Covering twenty hours in the life of the eponymous tragi-comic Argentinian ex-pat Finn, the story has our peripatetic hero traveling from bathhouse to fiancé’s house to a late-night park to dinner-hosting at a restaurant to brothel and finally to his residence, all the while alternating between considered wisdom and wise madness.
The entire book is a highlight, but I especially enjoyed the long, highly-charged emotional discourse among friends and acquaintances at the restaurant, at which Optimus Oloop gives the only explanation (not a spoiler, since the novel is a modernist consideration, but it has to do with the Great War) for his anguish in his failed attempt at self-control and mathematically-ordered daily habit. Filloy, a psychologically astute (Freud knew him, and followed his work) world-renowned palindromist, speaker of seven languages, neologist, and boxing referee, has great fun in creating an effervescent prose reading experience, full of humour and dark colour, angry and loving exchanges, and, not least, a pervasive and daring exploration on the nature of love, presented (often) in a surprisingly compatible mode of absurdity. Sparse quoting can’t do the book justice, but here are a few selections, anyway:
“ ‘It brings forth a flaccid rotundity as soon as the mouth stops articulating thoughts in favor of gobbling meats and sweets. When one reaches that stage, the cerebral lobes abandon the skull and sink down into the buttocks ... ’ ”.
“ ‘As has already been stated: some people’s brains border their anal regions. Thus, their senses are dulled, and the psychopathological pestilence is such that the intrepid scholar-explorer inevitably butts up against a dead end’ ”.
“ ‘Gentlemen, I know perfectly well that friends, like cigarette lighters, tend to fail just when you need them most. Why, my own uselessness is notorious. Unless it’s for a bash or a brawl! ... I can box, so I like to piss people off. See, if it weren’t for my jibes, I’d never use my jabs. So the touching thing about my friendship with Op Oloop is the mutual indifference that unites us. I don’t care about statistics, and he has no interest in who I punch’ ”.
“All the memories clotted together in her heart like so many aneurisms; all her tears lay buried beneath her desperate maquillage; and all the jewels given to her by her ‘sweethearts’ were pinned to her black taffeta dress, suitably buttoned up to the neck’ ”.
“Just when vertigo was on the verge of wrenching him free, Op Oloop shut his eyes, guillotining its magnetic pull.”