Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Blood on the Saddle by Rafael Reig

Perhaps it was the translation, but Rafael Reig’s Blood on the Saddle reminds me more than a little of Charles Bukowski, especially his novel Pulp (qv).

Carlos Clot is a private detective in the Madrid of the near-future, a city that’s been swamped by water and half buried in the sand. One of his cases involves a character who has gone missing from a cowboy novel by Phil Sparks, better know to his family as Luis Peñuelas. Peñuelas can’t finish the book without her coming back, and Clot somehow has to find her in an increasingly surreal city filled with body snatchers, adulterous housewives and a sinister genetic engineering corporation run by the ruthless Manex Chopieta...

Clot is having no luck finding the heroine of Peñuelas’s new book, and the hapless writer, already a souse, hits the bottle for the last time. By the time Clot catches up with his old friend the man is in the throes of delirium:

It was hard for me to recognise him. Peñuelas/Sparks had deteriorated a lot since the last time. Out of the corner of his eye he watched his elasticated blue folder while he drank Bombay as if it were tap water. –There’s now way out, he kept repeating. Nothing to be done... He heard voices, received instructions and fended off invisible interlocutors with his hands. He described what seemed to be the DTs to me with their corresponding zootropic hallucinations and anatomical deliriums. He saw insects or was convinced he had one arm longer than the other, things like that. He spoke of his heart as a puddle of rainwater; his blood, the shadow of a tree that went on growing once day was done... –They’re coming for me, Peñuelas went on. You have to help me, Clot, my friend.

There’s nobody there but the two of them, of course, not that Peñuelas will listen:

In a supine position he went on drinking directly from the bottle. When the pins and needles started he began to scream. Hundreds of insects were running over his arms. He admitted he couldn’t see them, but he felt them, they were there, on his body, tiny and tireless. He lit the anglepoise. Nothing. Maybe there were too small to pick out with the naked eye, as he revealed to me. he scratched his arms with his nails, completely beside himself. –Peñuelas! Control yourself! You’re raving. This is formication, that’s all. –Oh shit! Fornication! Oh fuck! I knew it! The treacherous cow! –With an M, Peñuelas. It means youre imagining ants, that’s all. Next he seemed to see it all clearly: the insects had to be under his skin!

After scratching his arms to pieces he feels as if he’s burning up. Tearing off his shirt, he makes for the bath:

He decided he couldn’t faint; that was precisely what they were waiting for! If he fainted they’d throw themselves upon him, so he began banging his head with ever increasing force against the edge of the bath. This seemed to him a very intelligent idea, a stratagem or ruse, as he termed it. I saw that the enamel of the bathtub was chipping off. I didn’t see, on the other hand, that his skull had sustained a similar kind of impact. I gave him two slaps in the face and called an ambulance. He screamed. We wrestled. I subdued him... They took him away. He died at dawn, without managing to wake up from the other dream, the overwhelming, violent nightmare of arriving, sure, but where?

Probably the most gruesome warning about the perils of drinking neat gin I’ve read since starting this blog...

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