This is a succinct novel told from the point of view of a man obsessed. The reader follows the narrative through the eyes of the main protagonist, a jailed artist, Juan Pablo Castel, explains why he murdered a woman. He recounts the story of his intense, destructive relationship with Maria: it begins with a fleeting, seemingly inconsequential moment but turns in to an obsession which consumes him completely.
This is written in sparse and succinct sentences which makes this easy to read but nevertheless the reader can relate totally with the narrator. You the reader start to understand and share his obsessions and frustrations.
The narrative voice is aggressively intellectual, but almost delirious, as Castel veers between self justification and self loathing, whilst trying desperately to fight against his own destructive impulses. But it’s also funny, and planted enough in reality that you can identify with his painful shyness, his jealousy, and his compulsion to find this woman and somehow ‘possess’ her. Anyone who has ever admired someone from afar, yet felt completely paralyzed when in their company will appreciate how brilliantly written these parts are.
Castel is well-named: he is an artist whose intellectual arrogance creates a castle in which his own psyche runs wild, uncompromised by the views of others. We follow him through the cold, hard passages of his mind as thoughts and fantasies feed on themselves and paint an increasingly perverted view of the world. Sabato creates another metaphor in the book’s title The Tunnel, referring to Castel’s sense of going through life cut off from everyone else.
The imagery is subtle yet satisfying, and the story echoes Camus’ The Outsider, although Castel is very much an Insider too, trapped in his own mind. There is irony too: as an abstract painter he cannot deal with the abstract responses of Maria, demanding empirical truth and solid facts. Denied them, he creates them for himself.