The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibin
Richard Garay was born in Buenos Aires with an Argentine father and an English mother. In the third novel from Colm Tóibin we join Garay’s life during the time of the Generals, the disappeared, the Falklands war and its aftermath as the American government and oil industry infiltrates Argentina to ensure a swift and easy transfer to privatization.
Garay’s life follows the same pattern as that of his country during this period. At the opening of the novel he is a teacher, living at home with his widowed mother, confined to the shadows of their ancient apartment, reluctant to engage with the world outside.
In those years you moved carefully; without knowing why, you watched out. It was something in the atmosphere, something unsaid and all pervasive, rather than anything printed in the papers or broadcast over the radio. You did not want to be the lone figure in the street at night.
But after the war and during the transition to civilian government Garay finds himself taken under the wing of a couple of American diplomats and his life begins to open out. He is gay and, following his instincts, he meets and falls in love with a young man from a wealthy political family.
At the same time, encouraged by his new American friends, he finds work as a translator and, eventually, opens up his own agency factoring discourse between his government and foreign interests in Argentina’s oil.
The novel thus functions as a thriller, a love story, a piece about political and monetary intrigue, and much more. It is unflinching in showing us human weaknesses and courage side by side and the narrative continued to haunt me long after I had finished the book and closed the covers.
The finale covers the worst period of the spread of the HIV virus, but is treated with humanity and generosity and insight and the writer uses his intellect and compassion to portray something of the loneliness and despair of those caught up in the associated illnesses and fatalities.
Tóibin’s ear for language is extraordinary. But The Story of the Night is also a courageous book; a great book.