Monsieur Pain


Occult sciences, César Vallejo, WWII, hopeless love, and a final “Epilogue for Voices”: Monsieur Pain is a hallucinatory masterwork by the great Roberto Bolano.
Paris, 1938. The Peruvian poet César Vallejo is in the hospital, afflicted with an undiagnosed illness, and unable to stop hiccuping. His wife calls on an acquaintance of her friend Madame Reynaud: the Mesmerist Pierre Pain. Pain, a timid bachelor, is in love with the widow Reynaud, and agrees to help. But two mysterious...

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Monsieur Pain

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Occult sciences, César Vallejo, WWII, hopeless love, and a final “Epilogue for Voices”: Monsieur Pain is a hallucinatory masterwork by the great Roberto Bolano.
Paris, 1938. The Peruvian poet César Vallejo is in the hospital, afflicted with an undiagnosed illness, and unable to stop hiccuping. His wife calls on an acquaintance of her friend Madame Reynaud: the Mesmerist Pierre Pain. Pain, a timid bachelor, is in love with the widow Reynaud, and agrees to help. But two mysterious Spanish men follow Pain and bribe him not to treat Vallejo, and Pain takes the money. Ravaged by guilt and anxiety, however, he does not intend to abandon his new patient, but then Pain’s access to the hospital is barred and Madame Reynaud leaves Paris…. Another practioner of the occult sciences enters the story (working for Franco, using his Mesmeric expertise to interrogate prisoners)—as do Mme. Curie, tarot cards, an assassination, and nightmares. Meanwhile, Monsieur Pain, haunted and guilty, wanders the crepuscular, rainy streets of Paris...

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Editorial Reviews

Trevor Berrett - The Mookse and the Gripes
“It is more accessible than anything else of his I've read. We're sailing smoothly on Bolaño's flowing prose.”
Stephen Henighan - The Quarterly Conversation
“A real discovery and a substantial addition to the growing Bolaño library in English.”
Francisco Goldman - The New York Times Magazine
“Bolaño wrote with the high-voltage first-person braininess of a Saul Bellow and an extreme subversive vision of his own.”
Sarah Kerr - The New York Review of Books
“Roberto Bolaño 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.”
Will Blythe - The New York Times Book Review
“A surrealist's attic of unlikely juxtapositions…. Unease rules.”
Craig Morgan Teicher - The Plain Dealer
“A very good read and essential for Bolaño completists.”
Roberto Ontiveros - The Dallas Morning News
“A heightened sense of analogy aligns careless deserters, serious moviegoers and sold-out psychics to a world of labyrinthine visions….”
San Francisco Chronicle
“This beautifully translated early novella, set in Paris... joins the late author's other works in all its aching splendor.”
Cooper Renner - Elimae
“Employing a reserved and stately voice reminiscent of pre-Modernist fiction, Pain's tale is itself mesmerizing, debonair and entertaining.”
John M. Richardson - Esquire
“John Coltrane jamming with the Sex Pistols.”
Brad Hooper - Booklist
“Delightfully noirish.”
Carolina de Robertis - National Post
“Monsieur Pain, an early novella, beautifully translated by Chris Andrews, joins his other works in all their aching splendour.”
Dan Vitale - Three Percent
“Bolaño's gleeful but deadpan bouillabaisse of French surrealism, expressionism, and Kafkaesque unease.”
Will Blythe
The prevailing architecture of Monsieur Pain is the labyrinth—the hospital, city streets, a nightclub connected to a warehouse all imprison the protagonist in mazes through which he frantically rushes, only to end up face to face with no monster greater than himself…the evil in Monsieur Pain feels ominously real, despite the fact that Bolano hardly enunciates its presence. 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. Readers know, as the characters of Monsieur Pain do not, that Paris in 1938 is a city of sleepwalkers, that a darkness soon comes its way. It is Bolano's great gift to make us feel the dimensions of this darkness even when we cannot see exactly what it hides.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
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.)
Library Journal
In a rainy Paris in April 1938, the famous Peruvian poet César Vallejo, penniless and expatriate, lies dying of unknown causes in a second-rate clinic. Grasping at straws, Mrs. Vallejo and her friend Madame Reynaud consult a mesmerist named Pierre Pain. Pain is pursued by two Spaniards, who want to pay him to stop seeing Vallejo. However, about halfway through, Bolaño seems to lose direction, avoiding the near suspense he has created and instead floundering in a discussion of mesmerism and an extended scene in the cinema where patrons' conversations become intertwined with movie dialog. The love affair between Pain and Madame Reynaud is never fully developed, and Pain's not very convincing dabbling into the occult bogs down the story. The work is salvaged somewhat by faint touches of humor, e.g., the pun on the titular character's surname, which means bread in French, and the full name's reference to Peter Pan. VERDICT Owing primarily to the publication of the critically acclaimed The Savage Detectives and 2666, Bolaño is undergoing a posthumous revival, as more of his manuscripts are being discovered, published, and translated. For that reason alone, libraries will need to acquire Monsieur Pain, but it's not up to the standard of Bolaño's other works.—Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH
Roberto Ontiveros - Dallas Morning News
“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.”
Craig Morgan Teicher - The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A very good read and essential for Bolaño completists.”
The Los Angeles Times
“Monsieur Pain plays with genre the way a cat plays with a mouse.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780811217149
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 1/12/2010
  • Pages: 134
  • Sales rank: 1,370,676
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet 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.

The poet Chris Andrews has translated many books by Roberto Bolaño and César Aira for New Directions.

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