One doesn’t trifle with crime fiction

Where There’s Love, There’s Hate by Silvina Ocampo and Adolfo Bioy Casares (1946) French title: Ceux qui aiment, haïssent (translated from the Spanish by André Gabastou)

Preamble: It’s an Argentinean novel but it’s so impregnated with British crime fiction literature that it calls for British spelling. So, American readers, humour written like this is not a typo.

Ocampo_aimeWritten in 1946, Where There’s Love, There’s Hate is the first mystery novel in Argentinean literatue. It is written according to the genre of murder parties, Agatha Christie like.

Our narrator is Dr Humberto Huberman, retelling the story after the events and coming back to his home sweet home. When the book opens, he’s going to stay at the Hotel Central at the sea resort Bosque del Mar. The hotel is run by his relatives and he’s headed there to kill two birds with one stone: he will visit with his family and write the scenario a film maker has ordered. Contrary to what you’d think, Dr Humberto Huberman is neither a writer nor a doctor in literature but a physician. Writing is his hobby.

After settling in his room at the hotel, he goes to the beach for a walk and overhears a conversation between a party of four. Two sisters, Mary and Emilia are accompanied by a Dr Cornejo and Emilia’s fiancé, Enrique Atuel. Mary wants to go swimming and her sister says it’s too dangerous while Dr Cornejo considers that it’s fine. Mary goes and shortly after, she appears to be in distress and Emilia rescues her while the men are still on the beach, fighting for a bathing suit before doing anything. So there are tensions among that group.

During the night, Mary goes missing and is found dead. The police arrive on the premises and soon a terrible storm locks everyone up in the hotel.

Follows an artfully written whodunit which reminded me of the film L’heure zéro by Pascal Thomas. It’s the adaptation Agatha Christie’s novel, Towards Zero. The aim of the authors was to write a mystery novel according to the codes of the genre and it’s wonderfully done. I have read a lot of books by Agatha Christie and Patricia Wentworth and I found the usual scenes and topics of this kind of literature. You have everything: a bystander as a narrator who will play amateur sleuth, a closed-doors situation, several people who could have wished Mary’s death, a sea resort, ridiculous policemen who are in dire need of pointers to lead the investigation, a storm to add danger and isolation, a strange child with a mysterious past, unrequited love, tea-time in the purest English fashion, a character who’s passionate about railways timetables, a scene where everyone’s reunited in the salon to discover who’s guilty and a mirror effect as the victim’s profession was to translate British crime fiction novels into Spanish. It is told in a rather playful tone from someone who’s telling a good story. It’s full of humour and marvellous observations.

And yet, it didn’t work for me.

All the ingredients are there and I wasn’t taken by it. Where There’s Love, There’s Hate never really caught my attention and I didn’t care to know who had killed Mary. I remained aloof and I kept forgetting who was who. It took me a while to finish it when I should have read it in one or two sittings. If the aim of the experience was to write a brilliant pastiche of a mystery novel then it’s achieved. If it was more than an Exercice de Style then for me, the job wasn’t done. I had the same experience with The Yiddish Policeman Union by Michael Chabon. It sounded fake.

Jacqui has a totally different opinion on this one and her review is well worth reading here.

PS : Don’t ask me why the French edition has such a cover. I don’t see that it has anything to do with the book.

 

  1. May 10, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    Oh, Emma, I’m so sorry you didn’t enjoy this book (thanks for the link to my review). As you say, sometimes all the ingredients are there but the story doesn’t quite catch fire for a reader. I haven’t read the Yiddish Policeman’s Union (or anything else by Chabon) although I’ve looked at Kavalier and Clay a couple of times.

    Ah, well…onwards. I’m looking forward to comparing notes on Play It As It Lays (I wonder whether we might have different perspectives on that novel too). I’ll be in touch to fix a posting date for our reviews. So sorry the Casares/Ocampo novel didn’t work out for you. x

    Like

    • May 11, 2015 at 10:19 pm

      We can’t love all the books we read, can we? It’s a good novel, I just couldn’t enter the story.

      I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts about Play It As It Lays. My billet is ready, let me know about the posting date.

      Like

  2. May 10, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    Sometimes books just don’t work out for a reader, even when everything is supposedly there. Maybe I will try this the next time I have an appetite for crime (I usually turn to English crime fiction). Thanks for sharing, even if you didn’t enjoy it much.

    Like

    • May 11, 2015 at 10:20 pm

      I’d still recommend this book. It’s a fine piece of literature and I’m sure it will appeal to other readers.

      Like

  3. May 11, 2015 at 3:11 am

    I have this one, so I’ll be interested to see how I feel about it.

    Like

    • May 11, 2015 at 10:21 pm

      I’m interested in your response to it too. Perhaps I read it at a bad moment, who knows?

      Like

  4. May 11, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    I was getting more and more interested as I read your review so getting to your comment “And yet, it didn’t work for me” brought me up short. I might still give it a go but won’t be rushing out to get it now

    Like

    • May 12, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      Please, don’t dismiss it on my account.
      I’m not every reader and Jacqui really liked it.
      It’s a good book.

      Like

      • May 13, 2015 at 11:31 pm

        If i see it around I’ll take a peek. we can’t all like the same thing can we – would be incredibly boring

        Like

  5. May 12, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    I have a feeling I’d feel like you. I don’t see why anyone would like to write like Agatha Christie nowadays. I’m not much into whodunnits anyway.

    Like

    • May 12, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      It was written in 1946, so it makes sense it sounds like Agatha Christie.
      I read a lot of P. Wentworth when the kids were little. 10:18 was publishing them for the first time in French and I was so exhausted that it was all I could read.

      Like

  6. May 18, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    I liked it more because I found that none of it really made sense. If it was a mystery novel, or even a faithful parody of one, there would be plot, progress…I never got that sense. I felt I was permanently in that storm (why does he even go out in it??). So it has the tone and the trappings of the detective novel but it really *isn’t* one.

    Bizarre cover!

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    • May 20, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      I know what you mean. That storm confused me as well and it fit the foggy atmosphere around the plot.

      “So it has the tone and the trappings of the detective novel but it really *isn’t* one.” True. My point is : the aim was to write a detective novel but as it’s not written by natural crime fiction writers, it sounds fake. If anything, this novel shows that you can be a talented writer but still unable to write crime fiction. So this supposed ‘easy’ genre is not so easy to write.

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  7. May 20, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    Ah well. I loved this one as you know, but I loved it for its comic tone. I didn’t honestly care who did it, I’m not sure it really matters.

    Nice comparison with the Chabon. I’ve seen him criticised for having his heart in the right place, writing genre with affection, but somehow slightly missing the point since he’s not of genre if that makes sense. His Gentlemen of the Road is an homage to classic pulp fantasy fiction, but I know some who felt that while he meant well it didn’t quite come off as actually pulp fantay isn’t as easy as it looks. Your point re this reminds me of that.

    Glad you liked the Didion more.

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    • May 24, 2015 at 6:23 pm

      I found it funny too but like I said, it felt like Queneau with his Exercices de style. (which were written in 1947, so after this one)
      It’s great but something felt off. I couldn’t finish the Chabon I started.

      The Didion was excellent.

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