Thursday, 17 March 2011

A slim 135 pages'Monsieur Pain' was my first dip into Bolano. My daughter's copy of his '2666' remains untouched by me as its very size is challenging. In this book, a supposedly mystery novel,the protagonist,Mon. Pain is an ageing veteran of the First World War who has a reputation as a hypnotist. He also practices mesmerism and acupuncture. Mme Reynaud, a young widow, who he secretly loves asks him to help a Peruvian poet who is hiccupping himself to death from a strange illness.Mon Pain arrives at his bedside to mesmerize him and the story takes on a really surrealistic turn.Various other dream sequences happen, two enigmatic Spaniards offer him money which he accepts promising not treat the poet. Monsieur Pain has reason to suspect that agents loyal to Franco in the Spanish Civil War are trying to assassinate Vallejo,the poet, a supporter of the Republican cause. The story keeps taking weird turns and the worst part was that the ending did not offer any resolution at all. When he gets back to the hospital the poet had vanished!According to one review 'The novel melds existential anxiety to political terror in a measure peculiar to BolaƱo.' Well,I concede he is good writer(or I wouldn't have finished the book) but his style of writing does not appeal to me at all. I'll leave him to others who enjoy such work.

Manju Kapur's 'Custody' all 455 pages of it began well as the opening sentence promised. She is a master craftsman at delivering the nuances of failing relationships and adding the strands of the extended family and pressures from the society at large with great dexterity. Unfortunatley this novel in my opinion was overlong and could have been sharper with a good edit. As always her characteristaion was exceptionally good, the children being used as pawns in the custody issue between the parents was protrayed very well. A bit disappointed that a good story was spoilt by becoming tedious in the end.

A friend of mine told me about the 'Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'by Rebecca Skloot and I also happened to see the TV Book Club reviewing and discussing this fascinating book. I am still to read it but the subject matter is one that really interests me. This is a true story of a black woman who died in John Hopkins hospital in 1951 of cervical cancer and her cells were taken without the family's knowledge and used extensively. Trillions of her cells are still alive.They have been employed in research into the polio vaccine, and into the effects of atomic warfare; they were shot into space, used in AIDS research.It is a harrowing and amazing subject and I've requested my library for a copy.

Books are a powerful mode of revealing lives that are more fantastic than fiction sometimes.

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