Brief Review: The Spies
By Luis Fernando Verissimo
Beyond his literary talent, his perfect dialogue, even beyond his ability to make farce as compelling as any other genre, Luis Fernando Verissimo is funny. It’s a dark funny, the kind earned by looking at the absurdity of the human condition and by knowing when to be reverent and when to bow to the absurd.
The Spies opens with a down-on-his luck, washed-up editor who spends his weekends arguing at a local bar with his comrades-in-failure over literature and grammar. The reasons for such behavior are clear:
“On Saturday evenings, we would find ourselves back at the same table in the Bar Do Espanhol, where we would start getting drunk all over again and resume the same insane conversation. It was a way of dramatizing our own inescapable mediocrity, a kind of unusual flagellation through banality. Dubin called these endless arguments ‘Pavannes for the living dead.’”
Yet, a few pages later, Verissimo can wax almost poetic:
"It’s all over now, what the stars ordained would happen has happened, and we are innocents no longer. Or, rather, we are not the same innocents. Nothing can be done or undone, all that’s left is the story and our lingering guilt. Curse us, please. Be kind and curse us.”
The editor begins to send his companions to a far away town to investigate the source of a mysterious story being sent in to the editor in installments, and to find out if the writer of the story, a young woman of mystery, is creating a work of literature, or is seeking revenge before committing suicide. With nods to the spy thriller and Sylvia Plath, among much else, Verissimo has written a wonderful little book, with a rushed ending redeemed by the quality of the writing. It is translated from the Portuguese by the always amazing Margaret Jull Costa. If fact, I would put forth that a person, supplied only with her translations, could spend day after wonderful day in literary nirvana.