Book Review: The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato

The Tunnel is a superb existentialist short novel by Argentinian writer, Ernesto Sabato. It is in the form of a confession, written by the main protagonist, the artist Juan Pablo Castel while in gaol for the murder of his girlfriend. The novel records in excruciating detail, the moment of the artist-narrator’s initial meeting with the girl up till the moment he takes her life.

The writing is in a very easy-to-read style and presents a fairly linear narration of events, but the content of emotions involving the artist are far from ordinary. There are some subsidiary characters, the girl has a husband and a close friend who the artist believes may be another lover. But the novel focuses almost exclusively on Castel’s interior experience of his relationship with the girl as he tries to communicate what becomes his obsessive love for her. Initially he is attracted to her because she seems to him to be the only one who understands his painting (he has contempt for the critics). From there begins an intense relationship which he analyses with an obsessive, though flawed logic, underpinned as it is by his suspicious nature.

I found this to be a very addictive read. Although, this being an existentialist novel, it may seem short on belly laughs, it does however possess a certain grim humour. The character of Castel was so contemptuous of people, it was difficult to entirely sympathize with his situation and the character may seem a bit extreme, but in the image presented towards the end of an individual exploring their own tunnel and not making real contact with another, we have a metaphor for human experience that many could relate to. If you enjoy writers like Camus (who praised the novel) or Dostoyevsky then this could be up your street. This edition has some Irish interest in the introduction being by Colm Tobin.

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