- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: New Directions; Reprint edition (February 23, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780811218894
- ISBN-13: 978-0811218894
- ASIN: 0811218899
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,186,078 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Monsieur Pain Paperback – February 23, 2012
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“Monsieur Pain plays with genre the way a cat plays with a mouse.”
- The Los Angeles Times
“A surrealistic attic of unlikely juxtapositions. . . . The novel melds existential anxiety to political terror in a measure peculiar to Bolano. Imagine the protagonist of Poe’s 'Tell-Tale Heart' if he were being interrogated by the secret police on suspicion of having hidden subversives behind his wall.”
- Will Blythe, The New York Times Book Review
“John Coltrane jamming with the Sex Pistols.”
- John M. Richardson, Esquire
- Brad Hooper, Booklist
“Roberto Bolano was an examplary literary rebel. To drag fiction toward the unknown, he had to go there himself, and there invent a method with which to represent it. Since the unknown place was reality, the results are multi-dimensional.”
- Sarah Kerr, The New York Review of Books
“Bolano wrote with the high-voltage first-person braininess of a Saul Bellow and an extreme subversive vision of his own.”
- Francisco Goldman, The New York Times Magazine
“This beautifully translated early novella, set in Paris... joins the late author's other works in all its aching splendor.”
- San Francisco Chronicle
“Monsieur Pain, an early novella, beautifully translated by Chris Andrews, joins his other works in all their aching splendour.”
- Carolina de Robertis, National Post
“In Monsieur Pain, a heightened sense of analogy aligns careless deserters, serious moviegoers, and sold-out psychics to a world of labyrinthine visions and designer fish tanks.”
- Roberto Ontiveros, Dallas Morning News
“A very good read and essential for Bolano completists.”
- Craig Morgan Teicher, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
About the Author
Author of 2666 and many other acclaimed works, Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) was born in Santiago, Chile, and later lived in Mexico, Paris, and Spain. He has been acclaimed “by far the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time” (Ilan Stavans, The Los Angeles Times),” and as “the real thing and the rarest” (Susan Sontag). Among his many prizes are the extremely prestigious Herralde de Novela Award and the Premio Rómulo Gallegos. He was widely considered to be the greatest Latin American writer of his generation. He wrote nine novels, two story collections, and five books of poetry, before dying in July 2003 at the age of 50.
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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.
Among the pleasures of "Monsieur Pain" is how economically Bolaño sketches scene after scene, managing to disorient the reader while generally maintaining narrative equilibrium. For me, the experience of reading "Monsieur Pain" was akin to watching a film noir, one with an experimental bent. One reviewer likened it to to the style and effect of David Lynch. As for his treatment of details, some scenes reminded me of Hitchcock, especially in the way Bolaño "edits" the sights and sounds of a sequence, and the way he uses physical surroundings to echo psychological space, and vice versa. At the very least you are likely to come away impressed by how skillfully the author (who viewed himself principally as a poet) taps into the strange beauty of the world, and conveys this with a sensitive descriptive power.
Bolaño's wizardry with a pen shines through clearly in Chris Andrews' translation. Pierre Pain, the shy narrator, describes a surprise appearance of his romantic interest, Madame Reynaud, at his garret: "The light delineating her silhouette had the gray intimacy of certain Parisian mornings." Later that day, called to the bedside of a dying poet, he is struck by how "the silence in the room seemed to be full of holes." The patient's face "displayed the strange disconsolate dignity shared by all those who have been confined in a hospital for some time." Later, anger and resentment seize the narrator, which he describes as "gradually hardening me from within like a carcass being stuffed by a taxidermist." Toward the end of the book he enters the rear of a darkened movie theater, his eyes adjusting to this scene:
"An aisle divided the rows of seats, from which the heads of the viewers protruded like nocturnal flowers; they were sparsely scattered, unclassifiable, mostly alone and isolated in their places."
That neatly captures Bolaño's vision of the world.
Monsieur Pain begins in 1938 as the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo lies stricken in a Paris hospital. Vallejo is hiccupping himself to death. When the doctor's prove baffled by her husband's condition, Madame Vallejo seeks help from the eponymous Monsieur Pain, an acquaintance of her friend Madame Reynaud. Pain is a reclusive bachelor, wounded and traumatised by the First World War, whose meagre government pension allows him to live a threadbare existence while devoting his time to his twin passions of hypnotism and the occult. He is also in love with Madame Reynaud and so agrees to try and help her friend.
Unfortunately for Pain, things quickly go awry. The doctors scoff at Pain's attempts to treat Vallejo and, embarrassed in front of Madame Reynaud, he flees from the hospital. Later that same day a pair of mysterious Spaniards offer Pain an envelope full of cash in exchange for ceasing to treat Vallejo and, believing that his services have already been dispensed with, Pain accepts. Of course, he is shortly summoned back to Vallejo's bedside to try his hypnotic cure once again and so begins a surrealist investigation in to the mystery [or, indeed, absence there of] of Vallejo's illness.
Poor Monsieur Pain is a most ineffectual detective and seems doomed to wander in a dreamlike state through his inept investigations as confrontations fizzle down to nothing and ominous figures loom up at him from the streets of Paris only to disappear without a trace. The mystery that Bolano has crafted seems almost too much even for Pain as he flails about trying to make sense of everything that befalls him. Whether or not someone is out to get Vallejo there is certainly something peculiar afoot in Monsieur Pain as a host of peculiar villains [ranging from Franco himself to rival mesmerists] are certainly at large in the story and so Pain is compelled to bumble around and find where, if anywhere, he fits within the conspiracy jumble. There is certainly some ominous presence hovering over Monsieur Pain even if its exact nature never becomes clear.
Being one of his earliest works, Monsieur Pain doesn't quite live up to the brilliance of 2666 or The Savage Detectives, but it is still an excellent, innovative metaphysical thriller that outlines the directions in which Bolano's literary career would develop [The `Epilogue for Voices' featured here, for example, being clearly echoed in the superb Nazi Literature in the Americas].