jeremy's Reviews > Monsieur Pain

Monsieur Pain by Roberto Bolaño
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's review
Nov 11, 09

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bookshelves: translation, fiction
Read in November, 2009

written in the early 1980's, monsieur pain is one of bolaño's earliest works. he had previously published the story under different titles (including the elephant path) while entering it into various provincial literary competitions throughout spain (a couple of which he won). in the preliminary note to monsieur pain, bolaño indicates that the "haphazard and erratic" fate of this short novel is "recounted in a story in last evenings on earth," presumably "sensini."

based on actual events, monsieur pain is set in paris in april 1938, the month the masterful peruvian poet césar vallejo died in exile. with chronic hiccups worsening his already failing health, vallejo's wife, georgette, as noted in her real-life memoirs, contacted pierre pain, a mesmerist with whom she shared a mutual friend, to enlist his services in curing her husband. what ensues, at least in bolaño's retelling of the tale, is part detective story and part metaphysical thriller. it is difficult to tell how much of monsieur pain is a product of bolaño's imagination and how much is embellished fact.

as any reader of bolaño knows well, the late chilean author composed some excellent writing (both prose & poetry). yet while monsieur pain is no exception, as a whole it does not compare to his later, more accomplished works. it is indeed a fine read, and any bolaño devotee will, of course, greatly enjoy the work if for no other reason than to have a more complete understanding of the author and his craft. as an early example of his writing, it has much to offer, and many of the themes, character types, and literary devices bolaño would go on to employ are roughly present herein. "epilogue for voices: the elephant track" is a nazi literature in the americas-style account of each of the character's known fates. monsieur pain is, without question, worth the read, but it nowhere nears the brilliance and refinement of the savage detectives or 2666. one question does remain, however: why did bolaño choose to write about césar vallejo, an exiled south american writer who faced an early death and posthumous fame?

as with all the new directions bolaño titles (with the exception of the romantic dogs), monsieur pain was ably translated from the spanish by chris andrews.

i should say that if there was still some residue of what it would be inexact to call my fear, it was swallowed at that point by the fatalistic calm that resulted from knowing without a doubt what was producing the sound and from the resigned decision not to make any attempt to find out why. one thing at least was clear: the sound was moving intermittently in my direction. i thought: now it is following the wall, but in a while it is bound to veer toward the center, toward me. it would probably turn when it drew level with my position, but it might also continue on its way so as to approach from behind- in fact, it was bound to do that.


i admit that for a moment i did weaken; unable to bear the situation any longer, i wanted to strike the match, to illuminate the scene that i sensed was being set up around me. the darkness was so sheer, the drip moving at such a regular pace, the bath was becoming so cold and was so reminiscent of a coffin, that an act of any kind would have sufficed to fracture the desolate coherence, the twisted lucidity distilled by that sound and the warehouse. yet i made no movement.

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