Written in 1996 by an Irish novelist, but set in Argentina of the 1980s, The Story of the Night is Toibin’s third book. In a way, it could also be described as three books in one.
The story begins as a coming-out or coming-of-age novel. Our main character, Richard, is the boy of a recently widowed mother. The story is told in retrospective first person from his point of view. Richard’s recently deceased father is Argentinian, his mother English. Initially, Richard and his mother struggle with poverty and their new circumstances as “lower class.” A few years later, when Richard is a resentful and low-paid English teacher, the Falklands War breaks out but he feels no ties to his English heritage and avoids any major conflicts –physical, emotional, or otherwise. Richard also expresses his infatuation and fascination with Jorge, the son of wealthy family friends.
The second part of the story reads more like a political thriller when Richard meets two influential Americans who enlist his help to ensure that the Argentine transition to privatization is a peaceful one. It is also during this part of the book that Richard begins to explore his homosexuality, visiting bathhouses and having sexual encounters with other men. Richard becomes a consultant and grows rich by exploiting inside information regarding Argentine oil stocks. For a moment Richard is frightened that he will “get caught” but that fear is never realized.
The last quarter reads more like a memoir than any other part of the book. Richard suddenly becomes sick while visiting the United States and wonders if it could be HIV/AIDS as he limps his way back to Argentina.
For me, The Story of the Night felt like a story of conflict avoided. Richard’s English heritage could be a source of conflict, but isn’t. His sexuality and business dealings could be, but aren’t. Ultimately, Richard must face a potentially deadly disease, but by then it is so late in the story that his reaction isn’t fleshed out. And so these conflicts have little to do with driving the plot. What kept me reading was the anticipation of a conflict.
Bottom Line: a decent novel that struggles to find its footing. 3 out of 5 stars.