Gilbert Adair has a flair for French settings in the latter half of the twentieth century (The Holy Innocents, Key of the Tower) and this novella is no exception. Gideon, the narrator, has moved to Paris in the early 1980's in order to teach English at the Berlitz school. Although he detests 'dreary' London and has only a distant relationship with his parents ["The only thing we had in common was our kinship. Did we even have that?" (2)], the reason he gives for his move is obliquely described in a lengthy discussion of his unhappy, unfulfilling, often humiliating sex life.

Once in Paris and at work, he befriends a group of fellow teachers at the school. After languid hours gossiping in the staff room and teaching their students, they make variably energetic attempts to live interestingly bohemian and erotic Parisian lives, before and during the first intimations of AIDS. The narrator then describes how AIDS affects his friends and his own life.


Gilbert Adair does not avoid one of the most difficult and awkward questions about the AIDS epidemic: why would somebody intentionally contract AIDS? Some men (and presumably some women), known as "bug-chasers," would engage in unsafe sex in order to become infected. The narrator of Buenos Noches, Buenos Aires suggests that some might have done this because of how AIDS became a part of the gay identity; the narrator suggests that to contract the AIDS virus was the only way for him to become fully gay.

This psychologically seductive novel deserves more than such a sensational synopsis might suggest, especially with a narrator as unreliable as Gideon. As a biting, provocative and, despite the narrator's insistence to the contrary, fictitious examination of how AIDS affected one group of men, this novella asks compelling questions about the lengths we would go in order to fit in.

Adair employs two notable gimmicks throughout the novella. The characters refuse to let a pun go past unnoticed and the narrator has a ruthless affinity for assonance and consonance--"slender, tender waists," etc. A type of verbal tic the narrator cannot rid himself of, these are also the narrator's way of linguistically pairing similarities (homonyms with punning, or the aural reflections of alliteration). With the heavily male imagery of the novella [("It had been snowing before my arrival and there were still cars parked in the streets sporting white crewcuts on their bonnets, cut short-back-and-sides in the American Marines style" (18)], it is not too far-fetched to suggest that this is a type of consciously "gay" prose, and at the same time a literal sign of the narrator's attempt to find a partner, a match for himself, and an adequate reflection of who he is.


Faber & Faber

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