“He decided to disappear, disappear into the interior of his own disappearance.”
Many years ago I watched the lively comedy film The Bliss of Mrs Blossom. The film starred Shirley MacLaine as bored suburban housewife, Harriet Blossom. Married to bra maker, Robert Blossom (Richard Attenborough), the neglected Mrs Blossom has everything she wants but with so much leisure time on her hands she’s bored to tears. Enter one of her hubbie’s employees, sewing machine repair man Ambrose Tuttle (James Booth). He arrives to repair Mrs. Blossom’s sewing machine and never leaves. Tuttle lives in the Blossoms’s attic for years, and while Mr. Blossom is slaving away at work, Mrs Blossom and her lover Tuttle indulge in every leisure time activity imaginable. Mrs Blossom enjoys the best of both worlds: the fruits of the labours of her husband buys her the leisure time to enjoy her lover.
This film came to mind when I read Rage from Argentinean novelist Sergio Bizzio. Whereas The Bliss of Mrs Blossom is a comedy about bourgeois values and the empty hours of a bored middle-class housewife, Bizzio’s novel examines the savage clash between the upper and lower classes in Argentinean society seen through the eyes of a fugitive lover who hides in the attic of a mansion.
Rage begins with the slow romance between construction worker Jose Maria, and Rosa, a maid who works in a splendid mansion not far from Jose’s work site. The two meet in a supermarket, and as their relationship grows they meet on Rosa’s day off–renting a hotel room for a few stolen hours. But Jose’s presence in the neighbourhood attracts attention, and he’s seen as having “attitude problems” by a local doorman and Israel, the son of the president of the Owners’ Association. Israel’s fascist tendencies clash with Jose’s lack of obsequiousness, and Jose quickly becomes marked as an undesirable element in the upscale neighbourhood. It doesn’t take long before Jose’s boss fires him after hearing complaints from Israel.
When Rosa’s employers, the Blinders, leave on holiday, their absence heralds a slight relaxation of Rosa’s rules regarding her relationship with Jose. Instead of meeting him at the tradesmen’s entrance, she allows him in the house, and when her employers return unexpectedly, Jose does what seems quite natural. He hides in the house.
A few days pass by, and Rosa assumes that Jose simply left. She goes looking for him at his work site and learns that he was fired. That afternoon, the police arrive at the Blinder mansion looking for Jose. He’s been accused of murder.
At this point, Rage shifts from being a crime novel to being a novel in which Jose becomes symbolic of the working class in Argentinean society. He lives in isolation in the Blinder mansion for literally years. He is privy to all their dirty little secrets, and he’s a silent invisible witness to the abuses Rosa suffers at the hands of her exploitive employers. As time passes, Jose begins to telephone Rosa from within the house, and this becomes the sole means of their communication.
Jose is a silent witness, locked up and shut away and yet powerless to help the woman he loves–even though he must witness her degradation. He resorts to violence in order to exact revenge, but it’s not quite clear if this is real or imagined as some of the incidents maintain a surreal quality. In the novel, Jose is very quickly identified as an undesirable element in the upscale neighbourhood. His virility, confidence and self-assurance mark him as a troublemaker. Once he’s out of the picture (or so his enemies believe) the other males have free access to exploit Rosa, and he’s largely powerless to stop it–an invisible witness rendered impotent by circumstance.
Some of the reviews I’ve read of Rage seem split over the question of whether or not this is a crime novel (Jose is accused of one murder and then murders someone in the Blinder mansion) or if this is a novel that’s largely symbolic, with Jose as a metaphor for the class system. Obviously, I land firmly with the latter group. When reading Rage it’s impossible not to ask yourself questions about the main character. How does Jose, for example, remain unseen in the mansion for years? Is this a straight forward crime novel or is Jose’s solitary, invisible existence symbolic? I think these are questions each reader will find it necessary to answer in order to find this a satisfying read.
Rage was made into the film, Rabia produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Sebastian Cordero, and it should prove to be an interesting slice of cinema. I’m very curious to see how the film handles the crime vs the symbolic elements of the novel.
On another note, Jose’s “disappearance” in the Blinder mansion reminds me of Argentina’s recent history of its “Disappeared” — during the 1970s, approximately 30,000 men women and children simply vanished into the dungeons and torture chambers run by Argentine’s sick-minded military Junta. There was no justice for the victims, and many of those responsible for these bloody years still walk free, under amnesty and without threat of prosecution. Bizzio’s novel seems to argue that many poor and disenfranchised still disappear in Argentina–swallowed up and absorbed by the power and appetites of the country’s wealthy families.