The Blind Owl

Sadegh Hedayat

translated from the Persian by D.P. Costello
Grove 1957 [1937]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2009
"There are sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a kind of canker." This opening sentence is almost a summary of The Blind Owl, which is a study in alienation and estrangement.

Its first part describes a dream sequence in which the first-person narrator spies, through a window which then disappears, a woman in black under a cypress tree. Becoming obsessed, he searches for her without success, until she turns up on his doorstep and then dies in his bed, following which he dismembers her body and buries it in the ancient city of Rey.

"It was not long before sunset and a fine rain was falling. I began to walk and involuntarily followed the wheel-tracks of the hearse. When night came on I lost the tracks but continued to walk on in the profound darkness, slowly and aimlessly, with no conscious thought in my mind, like a man in a dream. I had no idea in what direction I was going. Since she had gone, since I had seen those great eyes amid a mass of coagulated blood, I had felt that I was walking in a profound darkness which had completely enshrouded my life. Those eyes which had been a lantern lighting my way had been extinguished for ever and now I did not care whether or not I ever arrived at any place."

The second part of The Blind Owl reveals the background to this dream. The narrator is ill, deranged, and taking opium, however, and this account is just as disturbing and only slightly less surreal. A painter of pen case covers, he is an invalid being looked after by an old nanny and his wife, whom he calls "the bitch" and who he imagines is sleeping with every man she meets. His fevered mind returns repeatedly to the same ideas and images, and to the limited compass of his life: stories from his childhood, the contents of his room, and the butcher's shop and knick-knack seller he can see from his window. These are the same materials that went into the preceding dream.

"Other things which brought their contribution of anxiety and fear were my coughing, which sounded like that of the gaunt, black horses in front of the butcher's shop; my spitting, and the fear lest the phlegm should some day reveal a streak of blood, the tepid, salty liquid which rises from the depths of the body, the juice of life, which we must vomit up in the end; and the continuous menace of death, which smashes for ever the fabric of the mind and passes on."

The Blind Owl is a bleak but compelling vision and a masterly psychological portrait.

December 2009

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%T The Blind Owl
%A Hedayat, Sadegh
%M Persian
%F Costello, D.P.
%I Grove
%D 1957 [1937]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9780802131805
%P 130pp