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Gilbert Adair: Buenas Noches Buenos Aires

That Gilbert Adair’s Buenas Noches Buenos Aires opens with an emphasis on how true the ensuing story is, the reader has every right to be suspicious. But, other than a noticeable handul of clues, I’m at a loss as to why such dubiety need be cast upon the text. Adair has a reputation for novels with more tricks up their sleeve than most, but it feels like a straight story all the way. Despite the subject matter, of course.

Gideon A. – same initials as the author – is a young homosexual, nescient to the world he craves but with a handful of embarrassing sexual failures behind him. He leaves his Oxfordshire home and moves to Paris, taking a job as an English teacher at Berlitz. There he’s happy to discover that the majority of the all male common room is gay. Here he listens to the stories of their varied conquests and, in order to fit in, imagines and tells his own sex-laden anecdotes.

It’s okay for a while but, this being the early eighties, there comes the arrival of a “gay cancer”, initially dismissed by one character as no more probable than gay gallstones. It’s not a big issue at first, given that the disease is prevalent in America. But when symptoms start showing closer to home, the reality of it becomes apparent. Gideon, however, sees it as his chance to become more sexually active. If more gay men abstain from sex then, in all probability, that would make him a highly sought after partner. It’s a twisted logic, but it seems to work for him.

The storyline of Buenas Noches Buenos Aires sometimes feels secondary to Adair’s – or should that be Gideon’s? – erudition and verbal games. There’s all manner of references to literature, artists, and architecture – mostly French- and sometimes famous novels, with utmost subtlety, get namechecked (e.g. Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre). The wordplay is a virtuoso performance, puns and poetry coming together to form descriptions, jokes, and more. Then there’s the sex. Plenty of it, all told in a no holds barred stream of graphic prose, illuminating all manner of sexual quirks.

So how much of Buenas Noches Buenos Aires are we meant to take as canon in Gideon’s life? Admittedly, it’s unknown. There are perhaps a few clues within his narrative:

A timid soul, was my report card’s conclusion., an appraisal that had me spluttering with rage. Something of a poseur, was the overall view. Which I suppose I was, except that, if you imitate something for long enough, you eventually turn into it.

And:

It was a good story, well told, and I seriously doubt that any of my listeners were capable of spotting the joins – which is to say, working out where reality ended and fantasy began.

But who really cares what’s fact and fiction when it’s this good? Buenas Noches Buenos Aires is a tricksy little novel that turns its attention to the advent of the AIDS epidemic amongst libertarian circles. It’s witty, stylish, immensely readable, somewhat reminiscent of Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat but with much more substance. And despite the saddening subject matter it’s a novel that certainly has a good air about it.

August 12, 2007

5 responses to Gilbert Adair: Buenas Noches Buenos Aires

  1. John Self said:

    I really loved this book as you know, Stewart. I can’t really explain why except to say that it seemed to be so beautifully written in more or less every sentence that it gave me pure aesthetic pleasure of a kind that I rarely receive outside, say, Martin Amis or Patrick McGrath. I will need to re-read it and work out (or remember, if I ever knew) what the significance was of the pointers toward unreliability.

  2. steffee said:

    Ooh ooh this sounds wonderful! Great review, Stewie!

  3. Lis said:

    Thanks – this is going on my reading list!

  4. Nicholas said:

    Stewart,
    There is no lack of substance in Muriel Spark’s THE DRIVERS
    SEAT, the distinction between the end of Lise and the fate
    of Gideon being that Spark was satirising the nouveau
    roman whereas Adair is a disciple of Robbe-Grillet.

  5. Stewart said:

    That’s all very well Nicholas, but I never said Spark’s The Driver’s Seat lacked substance, but that I thought this Adair novel, which brought the Spark to mind, had more. Certainly I found it more fulfilling.

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5 responses to Gilbert Adair: Buenas Noches Buenos Aires

  1. John Self said:

    I really loved this book as you know, Stewart. I can’t really explain why except to say that it seemed to be so beautifully written in more or less every sentence that it gave me pure aesthetic pleasure of a kind that I rarely receive outside, say, Martin Amis or Patrick McGrath. I will need to re-read it and work out (or remember, if I ever knew) what the significance was of the pointers toward unreliability.

  2. steffee said:

    Ooh ooh this sounds wonderful! Great review, Stewie!

  3. Lis said:

    Thanks – this is going on my reading list!

  4. Nicholas said:

    Stewart,
    There is no lack of substance in Muriel Spark’s THE DRIVERS
    SEAT, the distinction between the end of Lise and the fate
    of Gideon being that Spark was satirising the nouveau
    roman whereas Adair is a disciple of Robbe-Grillet.

  5. Stewart said:

    That’s all very well Nicholas, but I never said Spark’s The Driver’s Seat lacked substance, but that I thought this Adair novel, which brought the Spark to mind, had more. Certainly I found it more fulfilling.

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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