Glaxo

Hernan Rosino’s novella Glaxo (translated by Samuel Rutter) begins with the railway line to the small Argentinian town where it is set being dismantled:

“One day the trains stop coming. Then a work team arrives. Six or seven men get out of a truck. They begin pulling up the tracks.”

Or rather, these are the opening lines; the beginning perhaps lies fifteen years before on those very same rail tracks:

“Things began to change one morning in ‘58, October of ’58. The ten o’clock train came in slowly, as usual, the engine spat out thick black smoke that blocked out the view of the silos at the mills. A few minutes later, from this very train, Ramon Folcada, stepped off onto the platform, a group of policemen waiting warmly for him and his wife, La Negra Miranda, who was barely twenty-eight years old and had unforgettable legs.”

This scene appears later, as retold by Miguelito Barrios in 1966. The novella runs not along the straight tracks of time, but moving backwards and forwards with gaps in between like tunnels: four chapters, four stations. 1973, 1984, 1966, 1959; and each time a different voice.

The first chapter presents a picture of decay and sickness. Vardemann, the narrator and town barber, observes his father, “bent over in the corner, distant and old, worn down like a bone that has been picked over.” Miguelito Barrios, a contemporary of Vardemann, returns from hospital, “holding himself up on their unfinished wall, walking with difficulty, pallid and thin.” At first it seems this is the story of industrial poisoning (a la Fever Dream) with the Glaxo factory looming over the town, and the frequently mentioned blackened metal drums burning all night, but in the final pages Vardemann visits Barrios who begs forgiveness for an unspecified offence, and we suspect that the poisoning may, in fact, be moral.

In 1984 Bicho Souza, another of “the boys from the neighbourhood”, tells of meeting La Negra Miranda, who disappeared from town many years before:

“…one morning she couldn’t stand it anymore: that night Folcada beat her, and while he beat her he told her what he had done in the clearing, he told her what Miguelito had told him, and so that very same night, she wrote a terrible letter to Migueltio Barrios, and pushed it under his door, she pushed it under before leaving…”

Souza also introduces the Western Last Train from Gun Hill, which they all watched together as kids, into the narrative. Friendly shoot-outs as children will be echoed in the tensions which develop later, particularly in Barrios’ description of Vardemann stepping off a train at the beginning of the third section in 1966. In the final chapter – told from Folcada’s point of view, opening with his abrasive, “Someone’s fucking La Negra” – the Western genre is to the fore, but, in the violence, revenge and double-crossing, it looks increasingly unlikely that the good guys will win.

At under a hundred pages, Glaxo is designed to be read in one sitting, and this allows it to work brilliantly as a mystery – the mystery being as much about the nature of the crime as the perpetrator(s). It’s also an admirable technical feat – four distinct voices across four decades. The fractured narrative, however, is not simply there for our post-modern pleasure: it places the emphasis on the effects as much as the causes of evil and leaves us with injustice rather than healing.

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11 Responses to “Glaxo”

  1. roughghosts Says:

    I’ve never heard of this but it sounds like an intriguing read.

    Just one note though, Grant. Have you considered adding a search function to your blog?

    • 1streading Says:

      Yes, I think you’d enjoy it.
      As you can see my blog is basically as it was 8 years ago when I started. It’s often on my mind to update it but I never seem to get round to it.
      I’m hoping one day it will appear ‘vintage’!

  2. winstonsdad Says:

    A new title to me as well so
    Much great lit from Argentina in the last few years

  3. Richard Says:

    Read this a few years ago with great enjoyment. It’s a measure of Ronsino’s ambition and artistry that he manages to sneak in a “character” borrowed from the Argentinean novelistic nonfiction classic Operation Massacre by Rodolfo Walsh, a great book in its own right and now available in English as of a few years back.

  4. JacquiWine Says:

    This sounds like a book in which the form/style (fractured narrative) is working in harmony with the subject matter. I agree with the comments on the literature coming out of Argentina and Latin America in recent years – it seems a veritable hotbed of interesting/intriguing ideas. The same could be said of its film industry too, especially with directors like Pablo Trapero and Pablo Larrain. As a slight aside, have you seen Trapero’s film ‘Cranancho’, the one about ambulance chasers? If not, I think you would find it really interesting (there are some parallels with the recent film Nightcrawlers).

    • 1streading Says:

      Yes – I wonder how much the two industries feed off each other. I’ve seen Nightcrawler but not Cranancho – I’ll watch out for it.

      • JacquiWine Says:

        It’s an old film – well, 2010 – but definitely worth catching if it pops up on Film4. It looks at the ambulance chasers from a slightly different angle to Nightcrawlers – more of a legal/insurance POV in this instance.

  5. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Intriguing is a good word from Rough there. I rather fancy this one: the collusion between form and substance sounds rather tempting as does the whole tone of it.

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