Where There’s Love, There’s Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo

Back in July, I read a few books to tie in with Richard and Stu’s Spanish Lit Month. All well and good except I ended up with several other books on my shopping list on the back of other bloggers’ reviews. Where There’s Love, There’s Hate was near the top of that list thanks to Grant’s review, and when I spotted it in the new Foyles, I couldn’t resist.

Where There’s Love, There’s Hate, first published in 1946, is the only known work of fiction by Argentine writer Silvina Ocampo and her husband Adolfo Bioy Casares, and what a little gem it is.

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The novella is narrated by Dr. Humberto Huberman, a physician who also happens to be a writer. As the story opens, Huberman is travelling to the Hotel Central in the Argentine resort of Bosque del Mar with the intention of working on his latest screenplay, an adaptation of Petronius. The hotel – owned by the doctor’s cousin, Andrea and her husband, Esteban – is marooned on a bed of sand ‘like a ship on the sea’, and at first sight the good doctor believes he has discovered the ‘literati’s paradise,’ the perfect setting in which to finish his play.

A number of other guests are staying at the hotel, most notably two sisters, Mary and Emilia, Emilia’s fiancé, Enrique Atuel and Dr. Cornejo, another gentleman known to the group. It’s not long though before our narrator senses tensions within this party. Firstly, he overhears a disagreement between Mary and Emilia’s fiancé at the beach. Mary is determined to go swimming, but Atuel seems overly concerned for her safety in light of the currents. Cornejo, on the other hand, sees no little danger in the situation and encourages the girl to take to the waters. A little later, as Huberman returns to his room, he hears the two sisters insulting one another furiously, and as night descends, the atmosphere at the hotel takes a rather sinister turn:

Suddenly, the howling of the dogs was drowned out by an immense moan; it was as if a gigantic, supernatural dog, out on the deserted beaches, were grieving all the world’s sorrow. The wind had come up.

“A windstorm. We must close the doors and windows,” declared my cousin.

A drumming sound, like rain, beat against walls.

“Here it rains sand,” noted my cousin. Then she added: “Just as long as we don’t end up buried…”

Nimbly, the rotund typist closed the windows. She looked at us, smiling, and said: “Something is going to happen tonight! Something is going to happen tonight!” (pg. 32, Melville House)

And she’s right. When Emilia discovers Mary’s body the following morning, Huberman swiftly inserts himself into the proceedings by declaring that the young woman has been poisoned. By now we’ve gathered that our narrator is a somewhat supercilious and pedantic busybody, one who feels compelled to involve himself in the investigation, at least until the police arrive.

Bioy Casares and Ocampo have much fun with this set-up, and Huberman’s character in particular. The narrator’s observations on Atuel, whom he considers a prime suspect, are deliciously sharp and barbed:

“Don’t touch anything!” I shouted. “You are going to muddle the fingerprints.”

I gave Cornejo and Atuel a severe look. The latter seemed to be smiling with veiled slyness. (pg. 41)

“The manner makes the man,” I thought. Atuel’s manner, like that of an overly debonair tango crooner, was beginning to exasperate me. (pg. 42)

And while Humberto waits for the arrival of the police, he seems equally concerned with the impact of events on the hotel’s schedule for meals and afternoon tea:

My plan was precise: take tea; visit Emilia before the police arrived; receive the police. Yet I feared that my cousin’s inexplicable delay in preparing, recipe in hand, some scones that aspired to equal Aunt Carlota’s justifiable famous ones, might perhaps signal the downfall of this most reasonable plan. (pg. 50)

Naturally, once Commissioner Aubrey and Doctor Montes (the police physician) arrive, our narrator could step aside and leave the investigation to the authorities. Huberman, however, continues to believe that the case will benefit from his observational skills and powers of reasoning, especially since Montes appears to have arrived in a state of inebriation:

The doctor was drunk; he had arrived drunk.

Cecilio Montes was a man of medium height and fragile build. He had dark wavy hair, large eyes, extremely pale skin, a finely boned face and a straight nose. He was dressed in a greenish cheviot hunting- suit, quite well cut, that, once upon a time, had been of high quality. His silk shirt was dirty. The hallmarks of his general aspect were slovenliness, neglect, ruin – a ruin that yet allowed glimpses of a former glory. I asked myself how this character, an escapee from a Russian novel, had appeared in our midst; (pg. 53)

What follows is a playful take on the traditional country-house murder mystery where everyone’s a suspect, even Huberman initially. There are twists and turns aplenty, and a few red herrings thrown in for good measure. It’s all tremendous fun.

On the surface, the novella reads like a traditional murder mystery; look a little closer, however, and we can see how the writers are gently poking fun at the genre. Once the heat is off and he can align himself with the police team, our narrator draws upon his knowledge of crime fiction to aid and abet the investigation. For instance, when the Commissioner relays his initial hypothesis on the murder, Huberman goes a little too far in trying to challenge a logical argument with an emotional response:

“Your explanation is psychologically impossible. You remind me of one of those novelists who focus entirely on action but neglects the characters. Do not forget that, without the human element, no work of literature would endure…” (pg. 67)

I thoroughly enjoyed Where There’s Love, There’s Hate: the wit and charm of the writing; the eccentricities of the narrator; the playful nature of the narrative; the murder mystery at its heart. It’s atmospheric, too; at one point, our narrator gets lost in a sandstorm, swept up in a labyrinth of sand, mud and marine life. The hotel seems to be sinking into the sand, almost as if it is being subsumed by its surroundings. As Andrea warns Huberman soon after his arrival at the hotel: ‘If we opened your window, the house would fill up with sand.’

In many ways this book reminds me of Marco Malvaldi’s The Art of Killing Well, which I reviewed a few months ago, another delightful novella involving a mysterious death. I can recommend both.

I read this book to link in with Richard’s celebration of Argentine and Uruguayan lit.

Where There’s Love, There’s Hate (translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Ernst Powell) is published in the UK by Melville House Publishing. Source: Personal copy.

57 thoughts on “Where There’s Love, There’s Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo

        1. jacquiwine Post author

          Oh, yes! That’s would be the perfect slot for something like this. There’s a wonderful Argentine actor, Ricardo Darin, so we’d have to find a part for him. I’m not sure if he’s quite right for Humberto, but he could pull off the role of Commissioner Aubrey (or possibly the drunken police physician).

          Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      It’s a lot of fun, Naomi, and a most welcome change of tone between weightier reads! I bought it just before we met up for the Woolf exhibition so it will always remind me of that trip.

      Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      Funnily enough, I wondered if the slightly quirky murder-mystery premise would appeal to you, Karen! I think you’d enjoy it, and it is a lovely edition.

      Reply
  1. gertloveday

    Until I read this, Bioy Casares had a vague and pleasant, semi-mythological existence for me as an inhabitant of the Borges world. It surprises me to think of him as an actual human being who wrote books like this. So much to know, so little time to know it!

    Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      A little like you, I first came across Bioy Casares via the connection to Borges (whom I’ve never read), and I’d formed the impression that his books might be quite deep and philosophical. Where There’s Love… is very accessible and a delight to read. A real surprise.

      Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      Indeed, Brian! Humberto Huberman is quite a character, even his name conjures up a certain image, doesn’t it?. In his review, I think Grant refers to him as “insufferable” which is spot on!

      Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      Oh, great. I think you would like this one, Guy. It’s such good fun, and it would make a great change of tone/mood between weightier books. I’d love to see it optioned for a TV or film adaptation with Ricardo Darin in one of the roles.

      Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      Very welcome! I hope you enjoy if you do get a chance to read it. As Susan mentioned in her comments, there’s scope for a film or TV adaptation here.

      Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      It certainly is! I thoroughly enjoyed this novella, Stu; glad to hear you liked it, too. I loved the way the story played with the mystery theme and genre.

      It sounds as if you might have reviewed it, so I’ll head over to yours and check – I should have known you’d be on top of this one! If so, I’ll add a link to your post.

      Reply
  2. 1streading

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts – and thanks for the mention. I’m just glad you enjoyed it (and that so many others seem willing to give it a go). I think Casares and Borges wrote (as well as edited) books together (also light hearted), though they don’t seem to be in print.

    Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      Thanks, Grant. Very welcome, and thanks for putting me on to this one in the first place! I’d be interested know how Bioy Casares and Ocampo worked together on the novella. I can see how it might be useful to collaborate on ideas, plot and character development, but I wonder how it worked when it came down to the actual writing.

      It’s a pity the Bioy Casares and Borges collaborations are out of print; I think they collaborated on a few screenplays, too. Still, we have the Ocampo short story collection from NYRB to look forward to next year.

      Reply
  3. Richard

    I hope to get to this book someday, Jacqui, and its “wit and charm” are certainly apparent from your review. Making fun of the detective genre is a time-honored tradition!

    Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      Indeed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one, Richard, so thanks for the prompt with your Argentine Literature of Doom fest! I’d love to hear your take on the book should you get a chance to read it one day.

      Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      I’d never have found it had it not been for Spanish Lit Month, so I’m looking forward to discovering a few gems during your equivalent for German Lit. As far as I’m aware, this novella is the only work they wrote together.

      Reply
  4. erdeaka

    though it’s a mystery, I think the core idea is very funny, where the writers try to poke fun at the genre :)) I never thought a writer could have such an idea.

    Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      It’s a hugely enjoyable book, one that doesn’t take itself too seriously! I’m sure there are other detective novels where the writer takes a playful approach with the genre: the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers, for example. There’s plenty of scope to have fun with a set-up or bumbling detective.

      Reply
  5. Claire 'Word by Word'

    I just love what you dig up Jacqui and now I want to know, where is the new Foyles and what other bookshops do you regularly haunt or do you shop online?

    This sounds like a fabulous read and a tremendous find! Thanks for sharing, no wonder we’re all a bit blaze about the Booker when we can come here and find such astonishing gems!

    Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      I loved this book, Claire, such an enjoyable read for a time when you want to have fun with a book. All credit to Grant for unearthing this one as I doubt whether I would have come across it otherwise.

      You’ll have to get over to London to see the new Foyles at some point; you’d love it, I’m sure! It’s on Charing Cross Road, just a few doors down from their previous site, an oasis for book lovers. I tend to save my book buying for trips to London as I like the selections in Foyles, the LRB bookshop and Waterstones Piccadilly. We have a local indie bookshop nearby. They have a tie-in with Hive for online orders, so I use this route for mainstream stuff.

      Reply
      1. Claire 'Word by Word'

        When I get to London I always end up at the South Bank Centre and the Foyles there which is great and because there is often some kind of literary event happening at the South Bank, even when one turns up spontaneously. I’ve tried to visit Belgravia Books, the home of Gallic Books twice but missed it each time as I arrived just after closing. I did get to Persephone Books though which is wonderful and I often visit Daunt Books in Marylebone. I haven’t been to the LRB shop, must add that one to the list. Good that you have an indie bookshop nearby, we have just one English bookshop, though fortunate to have that indeed.

        Reply
        1. jacquiwine Post author

          That’s a good thought about the Southbank Centre. I must take a look at their events as I often end up catching a film at the BFI when in London. You’d love the LRB bookshop as they always have such an interesting and diverse selection of books on display, and it’s another nice spot for coffee and cake. Glad to hear you have an English bookshop nearby, that’s fortunate!

          Reply
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  8. Max Cairnduff

    Well, I’m glad I saved this review to read. I just finished the Illiad yesterday, and while I have a reading plan of sorts for the month, nothing on it seemed quite right as a palate cleanser after that particular epic. I read your review and just bought the book on kindle. Really looking forward to it.

    Reply
    1. jacquiwine Post author

      Brilliant! I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this, Max, and I’d love to hear how you get on with it. It’s a good one for a time when you want to have fun with a book, a nice refresher between weightier reads, so it should suit where you are in your reading right now.

      I have read The Pendragon Legend and Journey by Moonlight, loved both. I’ll take a look at your review. I’d like to read more by Szerb at some stage…

      Reply
    2. jacquiwine Post author

      Oh, I forgot to say I’m looking forward to your review of The Iliad. I haven’t read it, and my only connection with the story comes from reading Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles (a retelling from the POV of Patroclus) for book group. A great story, very well written in lyrical prose, but I found the tone a bit too romancey for my tastes. I suspect I might be on safer ground with The Iliad itself.

      Reply
  9. Max Cairnduff

    Oliver VII is great too. I’m a good chunk into this one now and it’s great, so thanks again for the review. As you say, a nice refresher.

    Illiad should hopefully be up before the end of the week, though it’s a somewhat more daunting book to review than most. It’s not romancey I think it’s fair to say…

    Reply
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  13. Scott W.

    The setting – and the obvious delight the authors seem to have had in playing around in the genre – ensure that this is a book I’ll read. I love the image of the hotel stuck in the sand. Have you read Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands? He makes great use of the interaction of sand and water. There seems to be something inherently melancholy and mysterious about tidal flats.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I had a lot of fun with this, Scott. It’s all in the tone, which is just delightful. And you’ll come away with a whole bunch of images of the characters, the hotel and the eerie sandstorm.

      I haven’t read The Riddle of the Sands, but the plot sounds very familiar. I suspect I may have seen the film many years ago! On the list it goes…

      Reply
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