Saturday, February 06, 2010

Roberto Bolaño: Monsieur Pain

Monsieur PainWill Blythe reviews Roberto Bolaño's Monsieur Pain.
The beauty of Roberto Bolaño’s slender mystery novel “Monsieur Pain,” originally published in 1999 and now translated from the Spanish by the estimable Chris Andrews, is that it doesn’t behave much like a mystery novel. By the end of the book, which Bolaño wrote in either 1981 or 1982, the mysteries remain unsolved, the ostensible victim may or may not have suffered from foul play and the protagonist intent on figuring out who done it (if anyone did anything at all) appears incapable of doing so.

That would be Monsieur Pierre Pain, a middle-aged veteran of the First World War, his lungs seared at Verdun, now scratching out a threadbare existence in Paris by virtue of a modest government pension. In a bachelor’s dusty, jumbled room, he occupies himself by studying the occult. He has gained a minor reputation for the exotic practices of acupuncture and mesmerism, the art of hypnosis.

In April 1938, a beautiful widow with whom Pain is shyly in love comes to him with an urgent request. Her friend’s husband, a Peruvian poet named Vallejo, appears on the verge of hiccuping himself to death from an undiagnosed illness. This, of course, is the same César Vallejo who will one day be famous as perhaps the greatest Latin American poet, but here he is merely one of the first of the failed revolutionary writer-heroes — anonymous, exiled and suffering — who will become the prime movers of Bolaño’s later fiction. The mystique of the down-at-the-heels author always quickens Bolaño’s imagination. What novelist has ever shown more love for writers as characters?
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Roberto Bolaño: Monsieur Pain

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