Website of Colm Toibin
Prior to The Story of the Night I have posted upon several other works by Colm Toibin. Included are Brooklyn, Nora Webster, The Testament of Mary, The Master (my favorite), and House of Names. I have also read some of his short stories and essays devoted to Irish Literature. I was delighted to find his 1996 set in Argentina novel The Story of the Night marked down to $1.95 for a flash sale.
Set in Buenos Aires, beginning shortly before the 1982 Falkland Islands War with Great Britain, it traces the life history of Richard Grey. His mother is very British and his deceased father was Argentinian. When we first encounter Richard, he is just finishing college, living as he always has with his mother. They have a small stipend from the pension of the father and live in an apartment with very low rent. He is fluent in English and begins giving language lessons. From his relationship with a student his age from a wealthy politically connected the rest of his story will develop.
Toibin does a great job depicting Richard’s relationship with his sometimes difficult mother. We sense both his frustrations as she begins to pry into his private life, asking if he has a girlfriend and his very profound love of his mother. As she ages and does become a care burden for him, we see him face this and grow as a person. We feel his pain when she dies. Other than an aunt he has no other family. We learn a lot about the family history.
Above all else, The Story of the Night is about being gay in Buenos Aires. Potential readers should know in advance at least 100 pages of the book are devoted to descriptions of gay sex, some very graphic. Richard encounters lot of gay men. He cruises the night in Buenos Aires picking up men for no name sex. He visits bathhouses looking for men. He has two serious long term relationships, one with his first student and then with his student’s brother. This was in a time before aids when sex with strangers without protection was normal. At times it seems all the men he encounters were gay or at least open.
His big break in life comes when, through the parents of one of his lovers, he meets Sally and David, an American couple in Buenos Aires on behalf of the United States State Department to develop contacts among top Argentinian
Politicians with the aim of putting a Pro-American as President. His boyfriend’s father is interested in becoming president and wants Richard to cultivate the couple and get them to bankroll his election. The couple ends up initially hiring him as a translator and host for a group of. American businessmen coming to Argentina. They offer him a rate of pay six times that of his job teaching English at a college, a job he hated .
He develops from this contacts in the American oil industry. The Americans want Argentina to privatize the giant government oil business. Sally sets him up with a consulting business. He begins to become seriously affluent. He has a nonstarting sexual encounter with Sally at her initiation and David flirts with him.
There is a lot in this book. We see the excitement felt by Argentinians when they invaded the held by England Falkland Islands. We go to lots of restaurants and clubs. It was very interesting and gratifying to see Richard, who I liked a lot, become very successful. I became worried for him as it was clear the story of the Argentinian night would end badly for him.
Something tragic begins to happen in the gay community in Buenos Aires. Men are dying from the just begun AIDS epidemic. There is then no cure or any help but pain relief available.
Toibin portrays in detail the devastation of AIDS. Richard learns you get Aids from unprotected anal sex, a practice he has indulged in for years, with lovers and strangers. You might get the disease and not know it until the deadly effects develop years later. We also learn a lot about politics in Argentina, about the thousands of disappeared young people who were Anti-Peronists.
The strength of this novel is in the development of the characters, especially Richard and his final lover, Pablo as well as his relationship to his mother. There is a lot of really near x-rated descriptions of gay sex, some may find this overdone. I did at first but having completed the novel I see the point of so much sex. The Story of the Night is almost a portrayal of an end to an era of innocence, if you can get behind thinking of sex with strangers in a bath house as innocent. If you work at it, I think you may see my point, unless I am way off.
I am very glad I read this book. There are three Toibin novels I have not yet read available as Kindle editions and if they ever go on sale I will probably read them.