Ernesto Sabato, El túnel


This book has been sitting in my bookshelf for at least 7-8 years. I have no idea why I have not read it until now, but the impetus came from the fact that the Libreria de las Americas’ book club is discussing it on April 30. I hope I have the time (i.e. will be in town and not in a meeting with Australian colleagues) to actually attend this meeting and get a chance to discuss this fascinating book. It would also be great to have time to reread and pay more attention to form, use of language,… and to look up the Spanish words I didn’t know.

Juan Pablo Castel is a lonely Buenos Aires painter who has trouble entering into meaningful relationships with others, especially women. During an exhibition, he sees a woman looking at one of his paintings with attention and leaps to the conclusion that she must somehow understand him better than anyone else in the world. He therefore starts to stalk her until he successfully makes contact and learns enough about her to know where to reach her.

They start a relationship that becomes more and more intimate although the level of information exchanged remains extremely minimal. Of course, all of this is strictly from the point of view of the main character as the story is told in the first person, and it seems quite obvious to this reader that the narrator (described as “deranged” by The Guardian article referenced below) has a peculiar perception of reality.

This book digs very deeply into the psychology of obsession. Castel sees María, the object of his affection as a pure, good person, despite her statement that she is bound to hurt him some day. We later find out that she is married, has taken her cousin as her lover, and that her elderly blind husband seems to condone the situation. Castel perceived María’s adultery as treason both against her husband and himself and stabs her to death in her bed at the family country estate near Mar del Plata, where she had joined her lover.

In a crazed state of mind, Castel returns to Buenos Aires to confess to the husband that he has murdered his wife and to reveal to the poor man the extent of his wife’s treachery. He then finds out that the husband knew everything… The husband eventually commits suicide and months later, in jail, Castel is left to ponder why he did it.

In the end, he seems to realize, if I understand the final paragraph well, that he himself is the only person who can understand his painting and that this essential loneliness is a hermetically-closed hell that he will never escape.


Sabato, Ernesto. El túnel. Seix Barral, 2003 [1948].

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