It is possible, I suppose, to miss the cleverness of Gilbert Adair's Buenas Noches Buenos Aires, and dismiss it as crude, banal and filled with unsympathetic characters. But the observant reader will note the clues which demand that we treat the narrator with suspicion, and cast doubt on everything he says, as early as page 2 when he tells us, impossibly, of placing a bookmark between pages 17 and 18 of a book (if you don't see why, try it yourself). Yes, we are in the realms of unreliable narrative and postmodernity, Adair's favourite twins.
As such this novel is his best since 1992's The Death of the Author, and indeed because the cleverness is so well subsumed into the surface story - which is attractive enough in itself - you get two books for the price of one. Adair is a whizz with a neat one-liner ("homosexuality," reflects the narrator, whose initials are also GA, on discussing the anonymous promiscuity and casual contact-making of his 1980s gay milieu, "the love that dare not speak its name, but is more than happy to leave its number") and the more erudite sort of pun (a ribald story is credited to "Onanymous"). Indeed the writing is so good that the content of the book becomes almost secondary.
But the story is interesting too, and unlike many almost-too-clever-by-half writers, Adair delineates his characters effectively and effortlessly. There is even a heartfelt mixture of real comedy and gripping tragedy in one scene, which begins with a tooth falling out and ends with a world, literally ("I use the word 'literally' figuratively, of course" as Adair's narrator would say), falling apart. If the end subject matter is not that surprising - gay life in the 1980s, what do you think is coming next? - then its delivery is: a black comedy, in fact, of a big disease with a little name. And that's before you even consider whether what we're being told is fictionally true, or fictionally false. Figuratively, I mean.