Thus Were Their Faces

Silvina Ocampo

Weird, surreal, shot through with the blackest humour, and quite breathtaking.

A retrospective of the short stories of Silvina Ocampo, spanning almost fifty years of her prolific writing career. Ocampo was denied Argentina’s National Prize for Literature for the reason that her writing was ‘desmasiado crueles’. This collection represents those stories deemed ‘too cruel’.

Presented chronologically, Thus Were Their Faces is populated by not-so-innocent children, lovers mad with passion, angels, devils and dogs.

Ocampo’s skill at crafting the short story is sublime. She wrong-foots the reader, makes the ordinary extraordinary and naturalises the supernatural.

The opening lines grab the reader immediately, ‘Sometimes I think I can still hear the drum’ (The Fury), and the endings come out of nowhere. No word is extraneous. Report on Heaven and Hell is perfection in one page.

From the suspenseful House Made of Sugar and The Imposter, to the metafictional The Objects, to the downright funny: ‘There in the garden I noticed the unkempt wigs of some palm trees. What trees! Even a dog wouldn’t like them.’ (The Sibyl), the writing stuns:

The noise of a sewing machine wrapped the house as if in a hem of silence. (Strange Visit)

In Voice on the telephone I see the legacy of Struwwelpeter: Merry Stories and Funny Pictures and other Victorian-era grotesque cautionary tales. In turn, echoes of Ocampo’s style can be found in the works of Angela Carter, whose career overlapped the latter decades of Ocampo’s, and Antonio Tabucci’s Pereira Maintains (see The Velvet Dress).


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