The fantastic nature of this short novel is indicated at its very beginning when Felipe Montero, an indigent young man, reads a newspaper advertisement requesting the services of a historian. The advertisement is so suited to his own experience, needs, and skills that it seems to be addressed to him and to no one else; all that is missing is his name. This sense of Montero’s being especially summoned by the advertisement is further emphasized when he arrives at an ancient mansion in the old section of town where no one lives. As he enters the door, he takes one last look to try to “retain some single image of that indifferent outside world,” before entering a realm of magic and imagination.
Although the incredibly old Consuelo Llorente ostensibly wishes Montero to edit the memoirs of her dead husband for publication, one suspects that she has other, more profound plans for the young historian. Indeed, with the appearance of her beautiful young niece, Aura, who immediately exerts a hypnotic hold on Montero, the reader’s suspicion that this is a sort of modern fairy tale or parable is confirmed. The mysterious, old, witchlike crone, the quietly beautiful young girl, and the summoned young man establish an archetypal fairy-tale situation.
The house itself is typically gothic and always in darkness; the old woman’s room is filled with religious relics and lighted only with votive candles; in private she engages in occult rituals and makes entreaties to Gabriel to sound his trumpet. She continually caresses a pet rabbit, whose name is Saga, and the trunk which contains her dead husband’s papers seems always covered with rats. Montero feels a pleasure in the house that he has never felt before, a feeling that he always knew was a part of him but that has never been set free. He decides that the old woman has some secret power over her niece, and he is obsessed with the desire not only to set her free but also to possess her himself. Consuelo’s witchlike nature is further emphasized when, as Montero studies her husband’s papers, he discovers that she must be at least 109 years old.
(The entire section is 869 words.)