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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Open Door

Iosi Havilio

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To purchase Open Door

Title: Open Door
Author: Iosi Havilio
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 213 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Open Door - US
Opendoor - US (Spanish)
Open Door - UK
Open Door - Canada
Open Door - India
Opendoor - España
  • Spanish title: Opendoor
  • Translated by Beth Fowler
  • With an Afterword by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

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Our Assessment:

B : appealingly adrift, with a dark undertone

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 26/11/2011 .
The Independent . 4/11/2011 Martín Schifino
Página|12 . 11/3/2007 Juan Pablo Bertazza
Prospect . 10/2011 Fatema Ahmad

  From the Reviews:
  • "With skill and subtlety, the novel hints that a whole society might labour under an illusion of liberty, manipulated by forces outside the frame." - The Economist

  • "Set in a hazy version of the present, the tale is a succession of unresolved mysteries and pointed ellipses. (...) The novel is a success in large part thanks to its powers of suggestion. Writing in a crisp brand of minimalism -- frictionlessly translated by Beth Fowler -- Havilio remains both impassive and evocative throughout a book sprinkled with gently pregnant observations" - Martín Schifino, The Independent

  • "Opendoor, el libro, es una máquina permanente de generar intrigas que -- no queda claro si deliberadamente o no -- nunca son resueltas. (...) Iosi Havilio, a partir de un lujurioso manejo del relato, logra hacer de Opendoor un debut promisorio." - Juan Pablo Bertazza, Página|12

  • "Itís an impressively controlled story where, as a reader, you have to cling on to the plot by following the sentences as closely as possible: the sentences are deliberately unshowy so that plot twists can unfold in the quietest ways." - Fatema Ahmad, Prospect

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The unnamed narrator of Open Door, a veterinary assistant, seems from the first quite adrift -- willing to go with almost any flow. She lives with a girlfriend, Aída, having moved into her flat soon after getting to know her and "without giving it too much thought". Her account opens with her travelling to relatively distant Open Door -- a mental institution --, to examine a horse, and she reports, for example, that:

     The return journey seems quick, drifting in and out of a sleep that mingles with flashing images of the motorway
       The novel proceeds similarly, lullingly smooth while also flashing a variety of striking scenes and images by, the reader very conscious of being a once-removed observer. Aída disappears, but the narrator barely reacts -- unlike one of Aída's aunts, Beba, who shows much more concern. The narrator continues to drift, finding other places to stay, losing her job (which she in any case more or less forgets about), eventually winding up with the man with the horse (both named Jaime) at Open Door, but also there not finding any real purpose or ambition (and not seeming to mind).
       Typically, eventually:
     Boca and Jaime are always playing truco, they never tire of it. Nor does it incite any great passion, they just play. They shuffle, deal, and speak only when necessary for the game to continue. [...] And me too, on the outside, although I'm not taking part in the game, I'm there, with them, half horny, half lonely, circling around them, and I'm part of it, breathing in time, or in syncopation, accepting that this is how it is, that things have to happen this way, first one, then the other, each one in turn, devising a unique, singular present, which immediately escapes the three of us forever.
       The narrator admits: "I make mistakes: I act too hastily, on impulse, like a child", but she can't help herself. She seems unable to move forward with much -- or almost any -- sense of purpose. Yet it's not just her, it's a reflection of the larger society.
       Open Door, the mental institution, casts a large shadow here too. Established in 1898, the institution began with 25 lunatics; by 2000, she notes, there were 1964 internees, with an average of 65 new ones added each year. Yet the divide between sanity and insanity seems porous here: few act truly nutty, yet all seem damaged and isolated; if society itself has not completely broken down, these characters certainly can not get much of a fix on how it should function properly.
       The narrator's account is an odd mix of confidence and uncertainty: there's little she can pin down, yet her narrative moves steadily, firmly along, and she seems largely untroubled by all the uncertainty in her life; she accepts it as an almost natural condition. Typically, when Aída becomes an issue of sorts again, she notes:
Every time I bring her to mind, she escapes me. After everything that happened, it's an old and faded story. And more than anything, it's very complicated. Why am I going ?
       But there's little introspection here -- the occasional why about as far as it goes, without any attempt to answer the question.
       Early on, after witnessing what appears to be a suicide attempt, the narrator catches an otherwise empty bus and sits near the driver:
     Intrigued by what he saw reflected in the rear-view mirror, that confusion of lights and shapes, shrinking into the distance, the guy asked me: Did something happen ?
       That's exactly the feel of the entire novel, which always seems to be moving away from what happened, but offers oblique, distorting glimpses of it. Havilio pulls this off remarkably well through the narrator's surprisingly even-keeled tone; though arguably the story is very murky, all this vagueness and the lack of any traditionally presented story-arc isn't irritating. It is a decidedly odd work -- literally off-beat -- but in Havilio's capable hands is nevertheless surprisingly appealing.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 January 2012

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Open Door: Reviews: Other books by Iosi Havilio under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Iosi Havilio was born in 1974.

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