"It should be sufficient to say that I am Juan Pablo Castel, the painter who killed Maria Iribarne. I imagine that the trial is still in everyone's mind and that no further information about myself is necessary."
So begins The Tunnel by Argentinian writer Ernesto Sabato. We might expect what follows to be the explanation of injustice, or at least a mitigation, but within a few lines we begin to get to know Castel:
It is not always in accounts of crimes that we find the most reprehensible acts of humankind: to a degree, criminals are the most decent and least offensive people among us.
Later he will tell us:
"Experience has taught me that what seems clear and evident to me is never so to my fellow human beings."
At one of his shows Castel sees a woman staring at detail in a painting that none else feels to be important, "their eyes pass over it as if it were something trivial, mere embellishment."
An obsession is born, and the painter patrols the streets of Buenos Aires, hoping their paths will cross.
Eventually they do.
"You're blushing because you recognise me. And you think this is a coincidence, but it isn't. There are no coincidences. I have been thinking about you for months. Today I saw you on the street and followed you. I have something important to ask you, something about the small window, do you understand?"
She looked frightened
"The small window?" she stammered. "What small window?"
Published in 1948, The Tunnel draws from the European existentialist tradition of Dostoevsky, Kafka, Sartre and most of all Albert Camus, whose work it most closely resembles, and who was an early supporter.
Towards the end of the novel Castel is at a fraught dinner with Maria and others:
To ease the tension (Maria) commented that she was reading a novel by Sartre. In evident bad humor, Hunter fumed.
"Novels in this day and age! They can write all they want.. but what fool would read one!"
- The Tunnel, by Ernesto Sabato (trans. Margaret Sayers Peden), with an introduction by Colm Tóibín. Tóibín discusses The Tunnel in the Guardian.