The Life and Memoirs of Dr. Pi and Other Stories
by Edgar Bayley
Translated by Emily Toder
Collection Published in English
"Dr Pi was going
to be late to his date. He had had various difficulties descending the
mountain. Avalanches, insistent salespeople, a snake, and a broken leg.
but in the end, Pi arrived at the agreed-on shack..."
Reviewed by Tania Hershman
Dr. Pi is quite
something! Unlike any character I've ever comes across. As the back
cover so beautifully sums up, he is "a sleuth without a crime... a flậneur
on official business. Organizer of unknowable expeditions, lover of
brunettes". Who wouldn't want to read about what he gets up to? (Isn't "flậneur" one of the most wonderful words?)
These often hysterically funny short fictions - occasionally teetering
on the brink of becoming prose poetry and presented in a delightful,
slightly odd-sized book - are, shockingly, the first time this
major Argentinian poet, playwright, essayist and director has been
translated into English, by Emily Toder. As with Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud's A Life On Paper,
this makes me furious. Why has it taken so long? But enough of fury,
let us move on to enjoyment with a tinge of philosophical enquiry,
which is really what Dr. Pi himself is after.
The first 23
stories in the collection are the "life and memoirs" of our host, Dr.
Pi. Many of them are less than one page long; here is the first one, The Charmer, in its entirety:
I say nothing, I think nothing, Dr. Pi repeated to himself, without
moving his lips, as he crossed the street. A blue deer and a helicopter
briefly drew his attention.
Dr. Pi seems
to have his fair share of rather large moments, often being requried to
tackle very important missions of the world-saving kind that only he
can solve, taking him down secret tunnels and up and down more than
your average share of mountains. He is a sort of erudite and quirky
James Bond, with a penchant for sleeping with many women, especially
brunettes, which often temporarily sidetrack him from his assigned
task, as in The Bundle:
He took out his umbrella and said finally in a very low voice:
"It was necessary."
A woman, plump and middle-aged, warned him:
"Careful, your shoelaces have come undone."
Pi thanked her for the warning and tied his shoes. Then he walked confidently towards the snake charmer.
She held her out arms to him and abandoned her stand at the fairgrounds.
"Only for a few moments," said the charmer.
"There is nothing but moments, a few small moments," said Pi.
"Faster. We must hurry. If not, the espletia resin will be the end of us," warned Pi.
In Dr. Pi's
world, stopping to sleep with a dark-haired woman - even though the
bundle is "getting larger and heavier..." and "from inside emerged a
grayish-brown gelatinous substance" - is entirely appropriate,
although it does merit a brief reflection. This story ends on a more
existential note (the package, you will be glad to hear, is safely delivered ) as Dr. Pi runs into a professor of sociology:
of the men stumbled and the suitcase fell on top of him. In this way
they arrived at the first floor. A door opened and there stood a very
pale woman with blackish hair wearing a sheer robe. She asked Dr. Pi to
come in. He seemed to reflect for a few moments.
"Yes, that will
be most appropriate. I will sleep with this woman. You bring the
package down and give it to Enrique Molina, who needs it urgently."
"Excuse me, Professor,
but daily life does not exist," answered Pi. "I've arrived at that
conclusion by virtue of my own empirical research".
does or not, Dr. Pi is a most amusing guide to various esoteric aspects
of his, at least. In one of my favourite stories, The Waterfall and the Linguist, Dr.
Pi is waiting for Marta under a waterfall. However, instead, a linguist
turns up, "specializing in stylistics". They have a conversation about
discourse. Of course. The linguist, it turns out, is female, but, sadly
for her, she is blonde. Marta arrives and the linguist leaves. This is
the ending of the story:
Pi hugged and kissed her and greeted her with these words:
"The defamiliarization of the signifier is not resolved by the degradation of its semantic weight."
fictions will have you laughing out loud heartily and frequently. The
12 "other stories" at the end are also filled with sharp writing, odd
imagery and wonderful names, but I missed Dr. Pi to whom I'd become
I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book, which entertains but
does more than that. These stories are both ordered and chaotic,
dream-like and yet truthful. Through humour, sheer oddness and
philosophical musings, Bayley conveys back to us something of our
world, in which nothing ends neatly, no-one can really save the day,
and when it comes down to it, everything should be put on hold in order
to spend time with a "young brunette with bare, powerful legs, shorts,
and a striped T-shirt" on a tandem bike.
Read a story from this
collection in Route 9