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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A portrayal of the mind of a schizophrenic, suffused with Chilean mythology.
English-speaking readers tend to focus on Marquez when it comes to magic realism, but those who are out for a stranger, more idiosyncratic experience should seek out this work by Donoso. And, if you have even a smattering of Spanish, it is advisable that you read the book in its original language.

This is a polyphonic novel of multiple voices that all come from...
Published on 13 Jan 2011 by Simon King

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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Obscene LSD Of Night
I searched all London for this book and finally tracked it down in Shakespeare and Company in Paris. That's how keen I was. Take my advice and read Simon King's review first before buying this book or you may, like me, finish reading something you're convinced was written by a nutter tripping on LSD. I had no idea who was speaking in first person most of the time. I had a...
Published on 24 Nov 2011 by demola


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A portrayal of the mind of a schizophrenic, suffused with Chilean mythology., 13 Jan 2011
This review is from: The Obscene Bird of Night: A Novel (Verba Mundi) (Paperback)
English-speaking readers tend to focus on Marquez when it comes to magic realism, but those who are out for a stranger, more idiosyncratic experience should seek out this work by Donoso. And, if you have even a smattering of Spanish, it is advisable that you read the book in its original language.

This is a polyphonic novel of multiple voices that all come from the same character: Humberto Peñaloza, otherwise known as 'Mudito' (The Mutey). There are numerous threads of narrative that Mudito narrates, and numerous narrative voices and personalities he adopts. Hiding under the alias of 'Mudito', he languishes in the recesses of an enormous institution that for the most part houses decrepit old women and a few young orphans. Here he follows Iris, who is a teenage girl who the old women accost and and prompt her onto giving a 'virgin birth', and she is endlessly impregnated for years. Mudito, we are to find when we have delved well into the core of the novel, is a person called Humberto Peñalosa, a middle-class law student with literary pretensions. He becomes assistant to the aristocratic Jerónimo Azcoitía, a powerful senator and former socialite. Jerónimo's wife, Iris, is a woman who frequents the old women's home and much to her husband's annoyance, has a relationship with a 'witch' called Peta Ponce. There is a scene where Peñalosa has sexual intercourse with Iris, but is in fact an act of witchcraft between him and Peta Ponce that ultimately produces a mutant child simply named 'Boy'. Azcoitía decides to build an enormous kingdom that only houses 'Freaks' and monsters, thus bringing up Boy in a place where deformity and monstrosity is the norm and conventional notions of beauty are non-existent. Peñaloza is put in charge of the kingdom, and he becomes the abnormal one inthis vast world of deformity, where he ensures that Boy has no contact with the outer world whatsoever. However, he is deceived by Azcoitíá and extirpated of "80%" of his body because, as Peñaloza informs us, he discovers about the promiscuous act with Iris. This is when his individuality and characteristics are annihilated and he spends his remaining days in the catholic church housing the old women that's soon to be destroyed. Iris comes back claiming for the beatification of her former ancestor of the same name, and she undergoes medical treatments that make her age considerably. By no means does all this happen chronologically and linearly; Donoso often zig-zags through time and alternates between all these plot strands. Peñaloza is either the miracle baby the old women accost, a law student, secretary to a wealthy politician, a nun or a mute servant.

Donoso centres Humberto Peñaloza around the 'Imbunche' myth originating from an isolated island in Chile called Chiloe. Chiloe is an island that was segregated from the rest of Chile for a number of years and thus developed its own culture and mythology. After reading the novel I have read up on this and found that 'Imbunche' is the process of an implosion of the physical and intellectual self that turns the living being into a thing or object deprived of any individuality. Peñaloza's character is depleted and he is left as an existing thing that's completely secluded from the outside world, left languishing in his own nightmares and interior monologues.

The world of the Chilean working classes is what Donoso is carving out in this novel. Born to a wealthy upper-class family, Donoso found a whole underworld of intrigue in the stories and mythologies of maids and old women. Inés, a wealthy and prominent woman, eventually becomes Peta Ponce, the witch who acts as a servant to her. While I lived in Chile as a youngster, I was also intrigued by the seemingly different world these working class people inhabited.

The novel is an endless tangle of past and present; the subjective perspectives are by no means coherent, often alternating between different times and narratives. There is also an ambiguity between the identity of characters; in one of the earlier moments of the novel, it is not clear who is having sex with Iris as Mudito appropriates the mask she insists everyone wear while carrying out the act, as if it were out-of-body experience.

This is the underbelly of Chilean society and a nightmare image the hypocrtical upper-class citizens of the country prefer to keep under wraps. Its language, yes, is difficult, some people might call it awkward; the themes can be obsucure. Yet I found it to be a very inducing experience and I found myself glued to the pages. Definitely one of the most impressive, and intriguing, of my recent reads.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An obscenely brilliant but difficult work, 11 Aug 2014
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H. Tee (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Obscene Bird of Night: A Novel (Verba Mundi) (Paperback)
This is a nightmarish, surreal, deep complex and interwoven novel written by Chilean author Donoso in 1970. The story(?) takes place in The Chimba region of Chile in, I think in the 1970s as telephones, Rolling Stones and Che Guevara are mentioned, though there really are very few references to time - giving it a very Gothic feel.

First I think I'll say what I `think' the underlying story is about: Senator Jeronimo de Azcoitia is married to barren Ines and they meet the young aspiring author/lawyer Humberto Penaloza, who, loved and lost Peta Ponze. Humberto idolises Jeronimo and wants so to write his biography. Ines aspires to have her namesake of some 200 years ago at a convent, which the wealthy family own, `La Casa de Encarnacion' beatified for a miraculous birth. Mother Benita, along with 30 or so other elderly nuns currently run the convent with Father Azocar; they look after teenage wayward girls, including Iris who becomes pregnant. It seems to be that Humberto has a mental breakdown where he is incapacitated and also deranged possibly as a result of having an imagined affair with Ines to begat a child for Jeronimo. The child known only as `boy' is deformed (perhaps inheriting the problems similar to cousin Emperatriz) and ends up being looked after along with other disabled `monsters' so he won't feel abnormal. Humberto, now known as Mudito an invalid caretaker, comes to believe he may also be the father of Iris' kid. The story tries to reconcile the nuns' hopes for a divine kid, Ines and Humberto's madness, Jermonimo's hope for an heir, `boys' hope for normality, within the religious background of growing old with continued sexual desire.

The reason why you can't really know the story is that it's generally non-linear, the first person narrative changes quite a lot(though mainly Mudito), the parallel stories of the two Ines' periods, the style is less magical realism but more semi-stream of consciousness, Faulknerian sexual nightmare, which produces a melting pot of a tale where ultimately rational ideas are extruded from the reader. It is quite adult in places particularly regarding genitalia, Iris suckling nuns, rapes, Mudito being bound up etc. This is remarkable clever writing where juxtapositions clash with repetition of ideas and similes of setting.

If you're not used to this difficult and challenging sort of writing style, and hope to understand the story you will be disappointed. However, if you really want to try such a novel, and moderate your expectations accordingly, you really won't be disappointed. 5 stars for literature that is art.

Some quotes (the first pretty much summarising the narrator/story):

"He felt the need to twist normal things around, a kind of compulsion to take revenge and destroy, and he complicated and deformed his original project so much that it's as if he'd lost himself forever in a labyrinth he invented as he went along that was filled with darkness and terrors more real than himself and his other characters, always nebulous, fluctuating, never real human beings, always disguises, actors, dissolving greasepaint...yes, his obsessions and his hatreds were more important that the reality he needed to deny"

"you're making me descend from my limbo into the hell of an existence where desire's compulsory"

"I belong to that different sex, the sex of old women"
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Obscene LSD Of Night, 24 Nov 2011
This review is from: The Obscene Bird of Night: A Novel (Verba Mundi) (Paperback)
I searched all London for this book and finally tracked it down in Shakespeare and Company in Paris. That's how keen I was. Take my advice and read Simon King's review first before buying this book or you may, like me, finish reading something you're convinced was written by a nutter tripping on LSD. I had no idea who was speaking in first person most of the time. I had a little idea of what the story was meant to be about but I could barely relate most of the book to the supposed story at least as translated into English. There are numerous references to sex and organs. There are freaks of nature. There is the Chilean upper crust and some politics. There's the world of servants. And there is "Boy". That's about as much as I gleaned from over 400 pages. Needless to say I hate the book.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unoriginal, rambling, pretentious, 3 Oct 2011
This review is from: The Obscene Bird of Night: A Novel (Verba Mundi) (Paperback)
While it has a few intriguing scenes and verbiage, in general it tries too hard to be artistic/original. A frustrating exercise that is common of this genre.
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The Obscene Bird of Night: A Novel (Verba Mundi)
The Obscene Bird of Night: A Novel (Verba Mundi) by Jose Donoso (Paperback - 26 April 2007)
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