‘House Taken Over’ by Julio Cortázar, translated by Paul Blackburn

I discovered this author via Chris Power’s Guardian series, A brief survey of the short story. In ‘House Taken Over’, Cortázar’s first published story, two siblings live peacefully together in an “old and spacious” house that “kept the memories” of their ancestors. The narrator seeks out new French literature, but “Nothing worthwhile had arrived in Argentina since 1939”; his sister knits shawls that are unlikely to be used, “Stacked amid a great smell of camphor.” The house has a back section into which they rarely go except to clean away the dust. One day, hearing noises, the narrator shuts and locks the connecting door and tells his sister, “They’ve taken over the back part.” The unspecified nature of this invading presence is fantastically eerie. The siblings continue to live in what they now think of as their part of the house, contentedly killing time, until one day they hear noises “on our side of the oak door”.

Originally published in Los Anales de Buenos Aires, December 1946. Published in English in End of the Game and Other Stories, Pantheon Books, 1967. Also collected in Bestiary: Selected Stories, Vintage, 2020

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