Horacio Oliveira (oh-RAH-see-oh oh-lee-BA-rah), an Argentine bohemian living in Paris. An intellectual in his forties who distrusts rationality and the intellect, he is engaged in a never-ending search for self-authenticity, a unity in life that he calls the “kibbutz of desire.” Lacking purpose and motivation, his principal occupation is as philosopher-in-residence to the Serpent Club, a group dedicated to drinking, American jazz, and endless discussions of art and literature. Aloof and seemingly unable to give of himself, Horacio is condemned to a lonely physical and metaphysical wandering. He abandons the two women in his life, Pola and La Maga, when they need him most. On his return to Argentina, he moves in with a third for comfort’s sake. In Argentina, he is employed first in a circus and then in an insane asylum whose atmosphere serves to deepen his despair and growing paranoia. At the end of the novel, his fate is uncertain. He may have committed suicide; he may have survived to become another patient in the asylum.
Morelli (moh-REH-yee), an old avant-garde novelist whose writings have long been debated and admired by the Serpent Club. He is struck down by a car in the streets of Paris and is taken to a hospital. Horacio witnesses the accident but is unaware of the victim’s identity. When he visits the victim out of curiosity, Horacio is astonished to discover that this old man is Morelli, a famous author (at least to the Serpent Club) whose every word has been heatedly challenged or supported. Convinced of his imminent death, Morelli gives the key to his apartment to Horacio and asks him and his friends to arrange the material in his notebooks for publication in any way they see fit. These notes and commentaries form the basis of the second theme of the novel, the writing of the novel itself. Morelli’s goal has been the creation of the new novel—or, rather, antinovel—fit for the age in which he lives, stripped of all literary conventions, even character and plot development.
La Maga (MAH-gah), Horacio’s mistress in Paris, a single parent in her twenties from a typical Uruguayan middle-class background. After being deserted by her lover, she suddenly decides to change her life in one bold stroke. She moves to Paris, ostensibly to study singing, and she changes her name from Lucía to La Maga and that of her son from Carlos Francisco to Rocamandour. She sends her baby to live in the country so that she can concentrate on absorbing the intellectual atmosphere of...
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