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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Clerk

Guillermo Saccomanno

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To purchase The Clerk

Title: The Clerk
Author: Guillermo Saccomanno
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 138 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Clerk - US
El oficinista - US
The Clerk - UK
The Clerk - Canada
L'employé - France
Der Angestellte - Deutschland
L'uomo che non sapeva dove morire - Italia
El oficinista - España
directly from: Open Letter
  • Spanish title: El oficinista
  • Translated by Andrea G. Labinger

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Our Assessment:

B : quite a few layers of grim, but effective as such

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural . 12/3/2010 Joaquín Marco
Die Welt . 22/7/2014 Maike Albath
World Lit. Today . Winter/2021 George Henson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Un profundo pesimismo recorre todas las páginas del relato. (...) Residuo del irracionalismo kafkiano del pasado siglo, se radicaliza en el pesimismo de nuestro tiempo: deja huella." - Joaquín Marco, El Cultural

  • "Mit gespenstischer Ruhe, suggestiven Bildern und großer stilistischer Geschlossenheit entfaltet Saccomanno (...) in 55 knappen Kapiteln die Geschichte eines zeitgenössischen Sklaven. Der auf den ersten Blick angepasste Bürobedienstete läuft komplett aus dem Ruder, aber er ist gerade nicht nur ein Opfer der Verhältnisse, sondern Teil des grausamen Systems. (...) Es gibt kein Außerhalb, keine Gegenbewegung mehr, alles ist zerstört, überall dominiert Verrohung und Brutalität. Dadurch entwickelt das Buch etwas Monochromes. Lohnend ist die Lektüre der glänzend übersetzten Parabel dennoch, allein wegen der faszinierenden Doppelkodierung der fiktionalen Räume, die gleichzeitig altmodisch und hochmodern sind." - Maike Albath, Die Welt

  • "The Clerk offers us a dystopia of alienation and dehumanization triggered by late-stage capitalism-cum-neoliberalism, enforced by a hypermilitarized state. (...) Stylistically, Saccomanno's prose is telegraphic and repetitive. (...) All in all, Labinger's translation of The Clerk is a welcome addition to the growing collection of Saccomanno novels now available in English." - George Henson, World Literature Today

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 Clerk sets its tone from the opening scene, the protagonist -- referred to, de-personalized, only as 'the clerk' -- only leaving the office he works in late at night, an hour when:

the armored helicopters fly over the city, the bats flutter against the office windows, and the rats scurry among the desks engulfed in darkness
       The clerk is a sad sack. He's a dutiful and trusted worker, but like everyone at his workplace lives in constant fear of being fired and replaced. His domestic life is no relief from the grim workplace. He has a domineering wife who has no respect for him, and even his swarm of young children ride roughshod over him; only with the one called El Viejito -- "the little old man" --, a: "pale, albino child with one white eye, his face crossed by little blue veins, wizened, his skeleton looking as if it were made of wire instead of bones" is there a sense of mutual sympathy -- not that either can do much for the other.
       The world the clerk inhabits is ugly and violent -- your typical urban dystopia. It feels like end-of-times days, except there's no urgency: the days simply continue, each just as dark as the one before (quite literally: at one point a solar eclipse is announced -- "the whole region will be covered in darkness. The sun will disappear and it will become night" -- but this is a world where even that will pass largely unnoticed: "For some time now in the city it's been hard to distinguish day from night"). Saccomanno does do a nice job here of showing life nevertheless plodding on, the masses going about their business like the clerk, in defeatist passivity; guerilla attacks, bombings, and an omnipresent, always threatening police and army are navigated more or less with shrugged shoulders, resignedly accepted as a matter of course.
       When the novel opens, the clerk believes he is the last man in the office, but it turns out he is not alone. Seeing that someone is in his boss's office, he prepares to take actual action, to attack the intruder. It turns out just to be a young woman -- the boss's secretary. The encounter brings the two together, and they begin a sort of relationship. But the secretary is also the boss's mistress, complicating matters.
       Meek though the clerk is, he fantasizes about taking action -- embezzling money and leaving his miserable life behind, for example. He comes to consider murder and suicide as well, but ultimately his only significant act is one of cowardly betrayal. A colleague who does not yet seem to have been crushed by the system -- he constantly writes in a notebook, he reads literature, he has a free-spirited girlfriend and they're saving their money to buy a cottage in the countryside and go live off the land -- has long made him uncomfortable, and when the clerk confides in him he fearfully decides that was too dangerous, and sees to the colleague's undoing. And in this world undoings are complete and terrible.
       The relationship with the young woman briefly gives the clerk hope, allowing him to imagine a different life and the happiness that comes with love. The power structures of the world he is locked into, however, make it impossible; their boss has too much control over their lives, and makes it impossible for a happy, lasting, functional relationship to develop. Even small steps the clerk tries to take, such as trying to give the notebook his colleague wrote in to the man's girlfriend after he is disappeared, don't take -- while he is then confronted with that woman showing him what actual action is.
       Throughout, the clerk is haunted, in a sense, by 'the Other', and the idea of being an Other. Ultimately, however, he can not get out of his own skin; his destiny is all his sad own.
       The Clerk is a short novel, heavy on atmosphere -- dark and darkest atmosphere. Centered entirely around the clerk and his wanderings -- even most of the scenes in the workplace or at home have a rambling feel; even when physically stationary the clerk is almost invariably drifting at least in his mind -- it's an almost claustrophobic novel, with the clerk's thoughts and fears crowding out almost anything else. So also, even though there is some mention of happier times with his wife, long ago, there's little sense of past, of just how he and the world got to this point, and this condition.
       A dark, evocative novel, it is less a spiral into the final abyss than chronicle of slow, faltering, wretched decline -- right down to the devastating final sentence. Within its limits -- and it is a closely circumscribed story -- it certainly manages to capture and present this sad, dark fate well, making for an effective, if grim, portrait.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 October 2020

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The Clerk: Reviews: Other books by Guillermo Saccomanno under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Guillermo Saccomanno was born in 1948.

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© 2020-2021 the complete review

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