"Monsieur Pain" by Roberto Bolaño

An early novel, written in 1981 and published under the title “The Elephant Walk”, it was rereleased in 2010 by New Directions as “Monsieur Pain” in the wave of publications after the author’s premature death. (They come out at a rate of one every few months now, making it difficult to keep up!) “Monsieur Pain” was quite a different novel for Bolano, at least of the one’s I’ve read up to this point. 

 

It has an interesting premise: Pierre Pain is a mesmerist and he is hired by a woman named Madame Reynaud to help the dying Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo who is in a clinic literally hiccuping to death. Madame Reynaud’s late husband failed to help the ailing poet and hires the mesmerist to see what he can do. But there are Spanish agents, in the employ of Franco, who don’t want him to help and offer him a bribe to stay away. As events unfold, Pierre Pain tries to make sense of the ambiguous events that eventually unfold, having been barred from the hospital and cut off from Madame Reynaud for accepting the bribe. He is unable to make sense of anything that is going on around him and the novel becomes almost a surrealist romp in the vein of Louis Aragon. 

 

Which is interesting to me since the “voice” of this novel is written in a style which sort of mimics Aragon and other Parisian writers from the 1930s and it does so perfectly and one forgets that they are reading a contemporary novel by a Chilean author. There are allusions to fascism and art, the tension hanging over France just prior to the Nazi invasion and the brutal Spanish Civil War. The reader winds up getting lost along with its main protagonist, trying to make sense of all the events - and this is not a bad thing - and it only reenforces the surrealist trappings all over this novel. 

 

I enjoyed this but it’s far from his best work. However it is definitely worth a read, especially if you’re a fan of 1930s French literature and/or surrealism. He captures the tone wonderfully.

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