From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Bolaño's brief, wonderfully eccentric novel moves around two themes he developed at length in The Savage Detectives
—poets and conspiracies. In 1938 Paris, semirecluse Pierre Pain, the 48-year-old mesmerist narrator, is in love with young widow Marcelle Reynaud, who calls him to request his service in treating a friend's husband. Eager to impress, Pain agrees to treat the man, Oscar Vallejo, a Peruvian poet, who is hiccupping himself to death. Pain's re-entry into normal life soon goes awry: two thuggish Spaniards bribe him to withdraw from the case, Pain experiences auditory hallucinations, Madame Reynaud disappears, and Pain runs into a fellow mesmerist, Plomeur-Boudou, working as a torturer for Franco, who tells Pain an obscure tale about the purported assassination of Pierre Curie. Is all this simply a bizarre swirl of coincidences befalling a lonely and slightly mad bachelor, or are these events links in a chain of murders? One of Bolaño's first novels, this already displays his brilliant, alchemical gift for transmuting the dead-ends of life into sinister mysteries. (Jan.)
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Pierre Pain, the protagonist of this late Chilean writer’s most recent novel to be translated into English, is a mesmerist. He lives in Paris, in 1938. His fringe occupation is in keeping with the overall illusory, otherworldly air permeating all of Bolaño’s fiction, certainly in full bloom in this oblique yet—forgive the pun—mesmerizing story of the driving force of guilt. As it turns out, the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo lies abed in a hospital, and a female friend of Pain, for whom he harbors great desire, asks him to treat Vallejo, who is the husband of a friend of hers. Two dark and sinister fellows pay Pain not to treat Vallejo; taking their bribe money leads to Pain’s spiraling descent. Delightfully noirish (“the night smells of something strange”), this tight narrative might have been written with both Edgar Allan Poe and Jorge Luis Borges whispering in the author’s ear. And Bolaño has done these two masters proud. --Brad Hooper