A postscript, to the discussion about whether we should see this narrator as "unreliable". He or she is reliable enough to tell a good "surface" story. (And, as I conceded in December 2004, he or she may only be reporting the official diagnosis and prognosis, not necessarily accepting it as the parents have come to do.) The story works in its own terms. It moves from despair to hope, from  the father and mother's passive acceptance of the son's incarceration in the sanatorium to their decision to have him home. Whether the son lives or dies, they have redeemed their sin of despairingly giving up and accepting what the doctors say. In this sense, it is a moving story.
But VN himself has indicated that there is more to it than this. What is what he called the story's "inside"? Is it that the reader is tempted to try to determine, by "referential mania", by "signs and symbols", what is in fact undecidable: namely, whether the young man lives or dies? And that the reader should come to see, in the end, after that labyrinthine diversion, that the "surface" story is "right": that whether the boy lives or dies is, in a non-callous sense, beside the point: the point is that the parents redeem their sin of despair. They deserve their "unexpected festive midnight tea". 
Anthony Stadlen

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