At an art exhibition, a painter sees a woman admiring one of his works. Surprisingly, she has focused on the exact corner of the canvas that holds the key to the painting: a remote scene of a solitary woman staring out over the sea framed in a tiny window. The painter becomes consumed with the mysterious admirer, convinced that only she understands his art, and thus understands him. He follows her and befriends her. We follow them into their darkening tunnel of obsession, edgily awaiting, as with all noirs, the tragedy that will inevitably strike. Half Dostoyevsky, half Sartre, this confessional crime novel unsettles with its psychological insights into the obsessive mind. Existentialism as a literary style is not much in fashion these days. Novels come larded with words and ideas. Microscopically detailed descriptions fatten contemporary prose and things not only exist, they announce their entire genealogies. This lean book may thus jolt contemporary readers. It reminds us that when we lost taut characterization, we also lost books that pricked our conscience with their discomfiting portraits of the human psyche pushed beyond rationality. Uncushioned by postmodern garrulousness, art disturbs with human truths. The uncontrollability of human passion, precisely bounded, here comes across not as melodrama but as icy documentary. This novel does not promise safety, but Ernesto Sábato's intensity plentifully rewards.
Read Ernesto Sábato's “Before the End”