Monsieur Pain” was listed as an upcoming English translation on Roberto Bolaño’s Wikipedia page while I was reading “The Savage Detectives”. The description of it sounded like something I would’ve paid double to see Bolaño tackle, as his ability to tap into the image of all these niche political groups, trades, relationships, and general pieces of life altogether made him nothing short of legendary with a pen and paper. I perused a Barnes and Noble one day on my lunch break and found the book just sitting there on the “New Releases” shelf. That week, the only money I had was allocated to purchasing lunch and dinner, but I could not get myself to depart from the store without such an anticipated work of art in hand; anticipated even after trying to get through and consequently quitting “2666” from sheer boredom.
In 1938 Paris, the Peruvian poet César Vallejo is in the hospital, suffering from an unaccountable but definitely fatal case of the hiccups. In despair, his wife asks her friend, Madame Reynaud, to summon Monsieur Pierre Pain, a top mesmerist who has affections for Reynaud, a widow. He takes the call, but is suddenly tailed by two mysterious Spaniards, who proposition Pain to stop treating Vallejo’s condition and stay away from him entirely. The story unfolds through this dilemma into untrustworthy characters, baffling situations and mysterious disappearances (as well as appearances).
This book was a little hard to get into and not as fun as “The Savage Detectives”. The vocabulary, though not difficult at all, was a couple of levels above what I usually read from him and there are parts with extensive dialogue between characters that seem to not really have importance. But I still feel compelled to read it again. I had just finished “The Alienist” by Caleb Carr and was still on the high of a plot-based story. “Monsieur Pain”, as I had read it on Wikipedia and on the front jacket flap of the book itself, seemed like it would be in that same vein and, as I’ve said above, definitely a work of genius when handled by Bolaño. But it was the same kind of artistically-abstract, plot-less wonderings that populate his other writings. As a matter of fact, I am seriously considering picking “2666” back up and just reading the last chapter due to the fact that there’s really no narrative thread to follow in Bolaño’s books; just entering the story at any point won’t really lose the reader. Now that I know what to expect, I believe I can go back into it and read “Pain” on its own merits, which I will do in the future.