‘The Velvet Dress’ by Silvina Ocampo, translated by Daniel Balderston

I am very grateful to NYRB Classics for introducing me to the stories of Silvina Ocampo, an Argentine writer from the mid-20th century. There is a childlike sense of mischief and wickedness which runs through several of Ocampo’s pieces, especially those from the 1950s and ‘60s. This particular story features a woman who is having a dress made-to-measure, a velvet gown featuring a dragon motif embroidered with sequins. In writing this tale, Ocampo is playing with the dual nature of velvet, a fabric that feels smooth when rubbed one way and rough the other, something that has the power to repel as well as attract. Without wishing to give too much away, this brief but highly effective tale takes a rather sinister turn as it moves towards its conclusion. Perfect reading for Halloween or a stormy night in the middle of winter.

First published in The Fury, 1959. Collected in Thus Were Their Faces, New York Review Books 2015.

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