Sunday, July 08, 2018

José Donoso, The Obscene Bird of Night (1970)


A Chilean writer (1924-1996). Everyone is going to tell you that this book is about the last male heir of an aristocratic name who is born horribly deformed and whose father, therefore, determines to wall him off and surround him with only freaks for his entire life, so he thinks he's normal. Very gothic, eh?

Well, it might be a bit of an overstatement to say that it's "about" that. It's definitely a thing that happens, but that's not really the main thrust of the book, and it kind of gets dropped without resolving. It's really about this Humberto Peñazola, who starts out as the one put in charge of this project but sort of degenerates as his body and mind are worked on and he loses his independence and becomes like a child, sort of, at the mercy of a constantly-changing group of old women. But, again, everything is super-mutable, and you shouldn't take any of this for granted. Everything is changing always. It's magical realism if I've ever seen it. It definitely has some memorable imagery, and there are many places that I would call seriously icky (to use a term of art).

Give it this; this novel is definitely...not really like anything I've read before. And given this, it ought to be my jam. Isn't that what I claim? That I want new aesthetic experiences form the books I read? And yet...I didn't love this book. I wouldn't even say I particularly liked it, in the end. I have to concede that this may be my fault; I always say "hey! I've read and enjoy a lot of hella difficult novels!" in my defense, but that doesn't mean that I can't be a bad reader and not have "gotten" or appreciated a lot here. But to me, it just felt as though the narrative, such as it is, never really got going; it was just idling for a long time and then, boom, it was over. And seriously, the thing with the kid is just NOTHING. I really wanted to be impressed here, but instead...I wasn't. What a great review this was.

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