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Lives Less Ordinary: Jorge Consiglio's Fate
Hannah Clark , April 4th, 2020 08:28

Jorge Consiglio's Fate, newly translated by Carolina Orloff and Fionn Petch and published by Charco Press, places ordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances in fresh, candid prose, finds Hannah Clark

Fate follows a grand tradition within literature: tales of ordinary lives rendered extraordinary by a series of surreal events and the enchanting universal chaos of chance encounters. As author Jorge Consiglio writes in his opening letter to the reader (a beautifully expressed consideration of his work which is deeply enjoyable in its own right), “The characters … catch glimpses of beauty and love, and these inklings justify them somehow, spurring them to act.”

Set in Consiglio’s hometown of Buenos Aires, there are two key story strands within Fate (originally published as Tres Mondeas in 2018). The gradual break-down of a marriage between Karl, a German oboist, and Marina, a fiery biologist; and a blossoming, gritty romance between Amer, a taxidermist on the brink of critical acclaim within his field, and Clara, his mysterious love-interest, twenty-years younger than Amer and at a crossroads in her own life having recently decided to quit her job and re-train as a PE teacher.

Throughout this novel the word ‘fate’ will reverberate in the mind of the reader as events unfold. Alongside the four characters mentioned above are two other primary characters: Simón and Zárate. Zárate is the married man Marina has an affair with. “It was a fleeting touch, a slightly less than casual spark … Above their heads, clinging to a wall marked by moisture stains a bougainvillea fanned out its branches and somehow concealed the night.” Simón is Karl and Marina’s six-year-old son. The presence of Simón intensifies the failing relationship between Karl and Marina, his own young life caught and bound so fully with their own that it is at times painful to observe the choices his parents make and as a reader you are left wondering what effect his parents’ quest for happiness will have on Simon’s own life.

With the exception of Simon, all these characters are driven by either passion, desperation, or a heady mixture of the two, the story follows them over several weeks and months as they strive to grab as much of life as they possibly can; making and breaking commitments to themselves and each other as they are relentlessly battered by the improbable, unstoppable motion of an ordinary life.

It is a story which is accessible enough for readers to empathise broadly with, whilst also being strange enough to pique and maintain interest – think Zadie Smith’s searing London epic N W or Sarah Moss’ breath-taking Ghost Wall. We see Marina battling with a nest of ants whilst also wrestling with her belief in herself and the life she has made, which rushes ahead of her as surely and mercilessly as the ants she tries to crush. Karl, who plays in an orchestra, is used to being around people who both bolster and depend on him to enable the whole to function with ease, and yet he finds himself becoming increasingly isolated and at a loss for how to act. Clara is the only character we learn of purely through the eyes on another, the infatuated Amer. Amer, who is used to working with dead animals to restore a resemblance of life to them, falls in love with his own projected idea of Clara, who is skittish of his motives. Throughout the novel the two strive to reconcile their expectations for romance with the reality they are living together, a situation which swings from being desperately frustrating to being heart-warmingly sweet.

In his opening letter, Consiglio notes that, “The English translation is impeccable and captures every nuance of the original”. This is a deeply comforting thing to hear from the author, however, even without this, and although I only have the linguistic abilities to access the English version, I would feel confident in asserting that the translators, Carolina Orloff and Fionn Petch, have sublimely captured the raw essence of poetry in Consiglio’s layered and deceptively straightforward writing style. Their styling allows the delicacy of moments such as: “The light streaming in from the street got tangled in Karl’s hair before it spilled onto the table” to flit across the page, weaving themselves seamlessly into the larger, more commonplace narrative arcs.

A slim, powerful novel packed full of sensuality and written in fresh, candid prose, Fate carries an air of restlessness which identifies with, and gives voice to, the complexities and mysteries we each encounter in life. Fate is not a gentle read, it is challenging and insightful, hopeful and heart-breaking. It is a novel which will stay with you for some time after you turn your gaze away from its philosophical final line and resume your own ordinarily extraordinary life.

Fate by Jorge Consiglio is published by Charco Press