First published in Spanish in 1964, this second installment in Argentinian writer Di Benedetto's Trilogy of Expectation unfolds in a nameless Latin American city during the years after World War II. There a young man with literary ambitions struggles to find quiet, moving with his wife and baby from apartment to apartment while growing increasingly unmoored by the noise around him.
The first part of the novel delicately balances the comedy of neurosis with a study of the increasing suffering and alienation of the narrator, who recognizes his contradictions...but not his tendency toward self-importance ... As befitting a book about the difficulty of resisting noise, his narration is delivered in short sections and contains frequent ellipsis. There is a profitable uncertainty to these formal silences, which can be seen as either the product of the man’s aural oppression or a willed act of resistance ... Allen’s taut, elegant translation does not raise its voice, let alone shout ... Di Benedetto is particularly good at conveying our hero’s increasingly aberrant perceptions ... The closest this lean, brilliant novel gets to offering consolation is when the narrator reminds us that 'from silence were we made, and to the dust of silence shall we return'.
Even without a real crime, The Silentiary is in some ways built up that way. It is as much a novel about process as anything else: living, experiencing—and writing, even if the narrator isn't actually writing ... It all makes for a compelling and oddly gripping personal/character-portrait, including in such things as the presentation of his relationships with women, neatly, simply sketched out in a few experiences, encounters, and observations, down to the point where he decides ... Di Benedetto's style is unlike any other—and that's part of the fascination (and success) of this text, where even as readers think the narrator-type and the situation(s) surely are very familiar Di Benedetto presents instead something very different. Indeed, for all its seeming simplicity, The Silentiary is a work of striking originality—a rare thing in modern fiction. The Silentiary is a neat, odd piece of work—deeply strange even as it seems, in many ways, so straightforward.
The books [in the Trilogy of Expectation] have a spiritual kinship with Samuel Beckett’s postwar trilogy of monologue novels in their deadpan rendering of comic futility and monomania. The narrator’s voice is disturbed and disassociated, yet, somehow, strangely pithy and clarifying ... A vital difference from Beckett, however, is that di Benedetto’s fever dreams are lodged within the trappings of realism. The invasive din of traffic and machinery and dance halls is metaphoric but, for city-dwellers at least, will be distressingly familiar, and there may be many who come to understand the narrator’s journey into madness better than they might wish.