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Monsieur Pain Hardcover – January 12, 2010

3.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; 1 edition (January 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780811217149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811217149
  • ASIN: 0811217140
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #889,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael J. Ettner on January 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The principal audience for this book is readers who have tackled and enjoyed Bolaño's mature novels, most notably "The Savage Detectives" and "2666" -- and who would now like to engage in a bit of literary archeology. If you are such a reader, and want to trace back, to their earliest expression, Bolaño's mature themes, motifs and obsessions, then "Monsieur Pain" will offer you many rewards. Dreams, delirium, labyrinths, assassinations, artists versus fascists, secret histories, alienation, a blurred line between realism and fantasy -- it's all here in a rudimentary state.

But I'm reluctant to recommend this short (134-page) novel to a novice reader. The reason is this: Bolaño's strength is in what one critic called his "summative" powers -- his ability to encompass a mass of subjects, to assemble a formidable mountain of prose that draws you into a relentlessly engrossing world.

There are writers who excel at shorter forms (short stories; sonnets) but who fail at more sustained efforts (novels; epic poems). Bolaño may be an example of the opposite -- an author who is most convincing when creating lengthy works of cumulative power, but who may strike you as meandering, indulgent, and unfulfilling, when he invites you on a shorter excursion. I suspect many new readers will find "Monsieur Pain" to be a fragment-like experience without much pay-off. In short, this is not the best of Bolaño.

That is not to say the book lacks felicities apt to please a new reader. If you are comfortable with unconventional fiction, tolerant of detours and ambiguity, and intrigued by what happens when Poe meets Borges meets Paul Auster meets Thomas Pynchon -- then take the plunge.
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Format: Hardcover
'Monsieur Pain' is a novel that makes me question why it is exactly that I read novels. Depending on the answer, this particular work is either disappointing and vague, or else haunting and evocative. I suspect that most people who decide to make the plunge into Roberto Bolaño's works, and who start, as I have, with 'Monsieur Pain', will land in the first camp. Try as I might, I simply could not decipher Bolaño's point, and I even read the book again a few days after finishing it the first time, just to be sure I hadn't missed some critical revelation. Bolaño's talent as a writer is never in question, which only adds to my frustration - it feels as though there are great forces skimming just below the conscious level of the text, but which ultimately serve no linear purpose. Instead, it's as if Bolaño wanted to merely suggest these forces, the same way that complex music may suggest an awareness that is inexpressible by other means. As a literary technique, I think this can be significant and revelatory, but with 'Monsieur Pain, I thought it was self-satisfied rather than expansive.

The plot, such as it is, concerns the eponymous character, a doctor specializing in alternative medicines, who is called on to treat the Peruvian poet, César Vallejo, during his final days in 1938 Paris. Vallejo, an actual figure from history, was an outspoken anti-fascist, and decidedly on the side of the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War, and the novel appears to conform to the conventions of historical intrigue when two mysterious Spaniards visit Doctor Pain and try to dissuade him from seeing the poet. Pain takes their bribe money, but sees Vallejo anyway, whom he feels as though he has a chance of curing.
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Format: Hardcover
This was my first book by Roberto Bolano, and I came to it eagerly after reading several intriguing reviews. Perhaps I should have started with his earlier works in order to build an understanding of the author's style. As it is, my biggest appreciation is that "Monsieur Pain" was blessedly short!!

The novel is drenched in Kafka allusions of isolation, surrealism, the pall of unspecified dread everywhere. And certainly, the time in which the novel takes place...the Spanish Civil War raging, and the marching jackboots of Hitler's troops throughout Europe...is enough to inspire very REAL fearfulness.

Yet, there was never enough cohesion to instill a point of lucidity, a place to attach all of that dread. Undoubtedly, that was Bolano's point, his plan. After all, he experienced his own personal Kafkaesque period living under the dictatorship of Pinochet. I've no question that the free-floating anxiety that infuses "Monsieur Pain" was a very real way of life in Chile during those horrific years.

All in all, I can recommend this book with the qualifier that the reader may or may not know anything more by the time s/he reaches the final page. But, again, it can be read in a single sitting, so perhaps the solution is to turn back to page 1 and try again!!
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Format: Paperback
Roberto Bolaño has often tied his fiction, both long and short, to real characters, especially those in the literary world. The real presence behind this early novella is not the title character but the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, whom Thomas Merton called "the greatest universal poet since Dante." Weakened by his literary struggles on behalf of the anti-fascist side in the Spanish Civil War, Vallejo died of an unknown illness in a Paris clinic in 1938.

None of this is actually explained by Bolaño, who concentrates instead on the obscure Monsieur Pain (though also apparently a real figure), a practitioner of mesmerism and acupuncture who, at the request of the poet's wife, attends Vallejo just once before his death. Incapacitated by gas at Verdun in 1916, Pain lives on an army pension. He is a relative mediocrity, achieving little, not even the love of the widowed Madame Reynaud, despite her obvious attraction to him at first. But the novella, a sort of cross between Kafka and Alan Furst, maintains a curious noir suspense throughout. Pain is being followed, for example, by two mysterious Spanish men, and other parallel pairs of mysterious characters crop up throughout. The Clinique Arago, where Vallejo is being held, though also a real place, is described in surreal terms with featureless spiraling corridors and doors numbered out of sequence. The surreal air is further intensified by Pain's dreams, a midnight refuge in a huge warehouse full of junk, and an art film he watches in an almost-empty cinema. It is mildly disturbing stuff, but difficult to connect together, and leaving me unclear as to its ultimate intention. I can only guess that it is an oblique response to the Spanish Civil War.
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