Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Monsieur Pain

by Roberto Bolaño

I am a huge fan of Roberto Bolaño's writing, but am at the point where I've read all but a few of his novels.  That means I'm picking up some of his earliest written pieces, and of course they don't hold up against his greatest work, like 2666.  At the same time, it's enjoyable to see where Bolaño began as a writer, and to try to recognize his genesis.

Monsieur Pain is an odd little book.  It's basically about a mesmerist who lives in Paris just before the beginning of the Second World War.  M. Pain sometimes helps with the medical treatment of patients (it's never made clear how), and the widow of a former patient of his (who he is in love with) wants him to help a friend of her's.  The friend is the wife of the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, who is himself in hospital with what appears to be a terminal case of the hiccups (this and a fever are the only symptoms he is showing of some unknown malady).  Pain wants to help, but he is being pursued by a pair of young Spanish men, who wish to bribe him into staying away from the case.

Things get a lot less structured from there, as Pain gives in to his own paranoia, and begins wandering the city at night.  Bolaño introduces us to a few strange characters, such as the brothers who like to construct model disasters in the bottom of fish tanks, and a few odd situations, such as the night Pain spends sleeping in a bathtub in a deserted warehouse.  This book touches on the Spanish Civil War, Mme. Curie's daughter's suitor, and features a hospital designed in such a way that the corridors seem endless.

Bolaño's ideas are strange, but sadly, the book never quite comes to life until the reader arrives at the epilogue, which fills in what happened to a variety of characters after the book ends.  This is not one of Bolaño's best, but it was a diverting read nonetheless.

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