People in the Room

The three sisters sit at the window. From the apartment across the way, their faces are lit up, as in a (rather famous, rather older) portrait.


The narrator watches them from her living room window is like a spy; she observes their every coming and going and inveigles her way into their lives until she is visiting them every evening. Yet the sisters reveal almost nothing of themselves to her. The narrator is left to imagine the stories of their lives; even the tiniest action and reaction takes on enormous significance. She cannot stop herself from getting involved.


She becomes so obsessed with the sisters across the way she has no interest in anything else. Her family is convinced that she is taken ill, and even she feels the need to “cure herself of seeing them.” Yet they seem to have done nothing at all to provoke this obsession. They allow her to visit every evening as she wishes, saying little to make her either stay or go, until she finally leaves for a restful break from the city.

Although almost nothing “happens” in this book, you can cut the tension in it with a knife. You hold your breath as you read, waiting for some dark secret to be revealed or some tragedy to happen at any moment.

César Aira’s introduction puts the author, Norah Lange, in context. Like Lange, Aira himself has written about teenage girls in Buenos Aires, but much more recently. Like her heroine, and like Clarice Lispector in Brazil, Norah Lange was in a privileged position to be able to write at all, and to be recognised for her writing. Now readers in English can discover her, too. Get Charlotte Whittle’s new translation from the publisher, And Other Stories.

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