Mario Levrero - his writing, structured around humour and unease, takes the form of a clean prose based on the psychological that has been characterized as “introspective realism”. A cult writer, later in life he was seen as a master and point of reference for many of the best writers in Latin America

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Empty Words by Mario Levrero 
Mario Levrero, Empty Words, Trans. by Annie McDermott, Coffee House Press, 2019.
excerpt (pdf)






An eccentric novelist begins to keep a notebook of handwriting exercises, hoping that if he’s able to improve his penmanship, his personal character will also improve. What begins as a mere physical exercise becomes involuntarily colored by humorous reflections and tender anecdotes about living, writing, and the sense―or nonsense―of existence.




“A lighthearted wisdom beats in every sentence of Empty Words, a little masterpiece by Mario Levrero, who is, to me, one of the funniest and most influential writers of recent times. This book might change your life, or at least your handwriting.” —Alejandro Zambra

“We are all his children.” —Álvaro Enrigue

Praise for Mario Levrero

“Levrero is Kafka’s ‘everyday’ flip side, a shadow of Camus with a comical take.” — El País

“Style and imagination like Levrero’s are rare in Spanish-language literature.” — Antonio Muñoz Molina

“Mario Levrero is a genius.” — Enrique Fogwill

“Levrero is an author who challenges the canonical idea of Latin American literature. If you really want to complete the puzzle of our tradition, you must read him.” — Granta

“Mario Levrero is the great discovery of the century for Latin American literature.” — Revista Eñe

“Reading him draws us into experiencing the order of the irreversible, we leave our reading and encounter another reality on account of the simple fact that something inside us has changed, that our way of seeing is no longer the same. The man who never died.” —Germán Beloso



A grumpy writer seeks to focus his mind with handwriting exercises in this charming novel, the first by Uruguayan author Levrero (1940–2004) to be translated into English. Frustrated by his “mindless, scattered days” of attempting to write amid the constant distractions of family life, Levrero’s narrator embraces “graphological self-therapy,” hoping that improving the legibility of his handwriting will translate into an improvement in “my concentration and the continuity of my thoughts.” But as quotidian events such as a maid’s abrupt departure and his partner’s desire for a new house continue to intrude, the narrator realizes that “these exercises are becoming less calligraphical and more literary.” He begins varying them with explorations of his dog’s conflict with a neighborhood cat and of his dreams, but those subjects prove even more distracting. The narrator’s histrionics over his mundane responsibilities may be laughable, but his anxieties and preoccupations are captured with such precision by Levrero that the reader will breathe a sigh of relief whenever the exercises resume after a stress-induced break. “Going back to these exercises is always a first step toward psychological health,” the narrator writes, and it’s hard not to be persuaded that clearly printing one’s S’s and G’s may just be the secret to a happy life, after all. - Publishers Weekly




A cult writer, later in life he was seen as a master and point of reference for many of the best writers in Latin America.

Levrero’s writing, structured around humour and unease, takes the form of a clean prose based on the psychological that has been characterized as “introspective realism”.
He is the author of an extensive body of literary work which includes journalistic writing (some of the best articles are to be found in Irrupciones I and Irrupciones II), short stories, novels and essays.
Levrero hated interviews and prologues. He was interested in self-hypnosis, believed in telepathic phenomena, read about Zen, was addicted to computers, loved science, hated being addressed in the “usted” form, could not abide solemnity in general, read detective novels even at breakfast. He was a lover of cinema.




I’m not sure when I first came across Mario Levrero. It was probably in the nineties, although it could well have been in the first few years of the twenty-first century. He was born in 1940 and started publishing in 1968. His work is made up of novels (most of them short), stories and a couple of hybrid books in which he mixes fiction with memoir, diary entries, essays and reflections on the process of writing.

The thing is, even before I’d read anything by him, Levrero’s name occupied a special place in my head: I knew he was a ‘strange’ writer, unclassifiable, with a boundless imagination, who was creating one of the most intriguing, thought-provoking bodies of work in the Spanish language. I also knew that his books were hard to get hold of (that is why, at this point, I still hadn’t read him), and I knew that he was from that tiny country from where some of the authors I hold most dear also come (Felisberto Hernández, Juan Carlos Onetti, Marosa di Giorgio): Uruguay.

Then one day, a book of his ended up in my hands at last. It was a short novel called Nick Carter se divierte mientras el lector es asesinado y yo agonizo (Nick Carter amuses himself while the reader is murdered and I expire). I bought the novel and read it in one euphoric sitting, although there was scarcely any need to read it at all; the title was sufficient. Nick Carter is a detective who is hired by an aristocratic Englishman (with a castle and everything) whose assistant lives inside a bag and spends his time folding little bits of paper. There are sea monsters and a nymphomaniac secretary from whom Nick Carter is never able to escape. What more do you want?

Immediately afterwards I read Dejen todo en mis manos (Leave everything in my hands), and I went mad (more so). The protagonist is a writer who, desperate for money, accepts a mission to go to a small town in Uruguay to track down the author of a brilliant manuscript sent to a publishing house with no return address. Once again it is a detective story, hilariously funny and, once again, one with a lot of sex (the writer falls in love with a prostitute).

Perhaps Levrero’s best-known book, and the one that many consider to be his masterpiece, is La novela luminosa (The luminous novel). La novela luminosa was written in a period when Levrero had received a Guggenheim Fellowship in order to write a novel that he does not write, the proof of which is the subsequent diary of the fellowship where he reflects on the most varied topics: his addiction to his computer, his nocturnal habits, the movements of the pigeons he observes from his window, his compulsive reading of detective novels, his relationships with women and his curious ideas about parapsychology (a recurring theme in his novels), among other things. Levrero is an author who challenges the canonical idea of Latin American literature. If you really want to complete the puzzle of our tradition, you must read him. - Juan Pablo Villalobos
Translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey
https://granta.com/best-untranslated-writers-mario-levrero/


“The best part about Coffee House Press books is that they are often difficult to categorise, difficult to describe . . . because they are pushing the boundaries of form, language, syntax, genre, and so on,” says Chris Fischbach, publisher for Coffee House, in a recent interview with Asymptote’s Sarah Moses. Empty Words, the first book by Uruguayan author Mario Levrero to be translated into English (by Annie McDermott), fits this description to a tee. The premise is simple: the narrator, whose voice Levrero claims to be his own with some (potentially heavy) editing, is determined to alter his personality through altering his handwriting. Since, according to graphology, “there’s a profound connection between a person’s handwriting and his or her character,” surely altering one’s handwriting through diligent daily practice would bring about discernible changes in personality.

However, this intention is fragmented and repeatedly disrupted from the very beginning of the narrator’s exercises for two key reasons: external interruptions, and the repeated intrusion of “The Discourse,” an unintended literary by-product of his handwriting exercises “that won’t leave (him) alone.” The former is evident from the beginning of the diary/novel in “Part One: Exercises.” After two detailed goal-setting entries dated September 10 and September 11, 1990, the narrator is derailed only to return on September 24 “since (his) mother’s stroke took (him) away from home.” This serious disruption is coupled with an immediate distraction “in the form of a small, flustered woman calling to me in an angry voice.” The high and noble aims of these exercises which the narrator hopes will “catapult (him) blissfully into a life of happiness, joy, money, and success with women” are thus undercut almost immediately by the intrusiveness of daily life and family. This fragmentation continues over the course of several months as the narrator’s ailing mother continues to worry him, and his annoying wife and son, Alicia and Juan Ignacio, repeatedly distract him. His intentions to become as focused and as unrealistically solipsistic as possible are thus punctuated with mundane distractions, standing in comic juxtaposition with the narrator’s lofty ambitions.
A primary conflict that emerges in the first part of Empty Words is therefore the individual’s struggle for control, where the attempt to manipulate his handwriting acts as a microcosm of, or perhaps even an outlet for anxiety around, the powerlessness the narrator feels in his life. While the handwriting exercises are intended to be fully centred on calligraphy and “empty words,” the diary-like format of daily practice results in the narrator’s frustrations bleeding into his practice. Over time, his complaints centre around “this family (he) finds (himself) in,” presided over by Alicia, who he describes as “[a] fractal being . . . with a fractal pattern of behaviour.” The family is governed by a law the narrator formulates as: “Any movement toward a goal will immediately be diverted toward another goal, and so on, and the movement toward the original goal may or may not ever be resumed.” This is mirrored in the narrator’s own handwriting exercises, which are perpetually sidetracked by “subject matter” and literary material, reflecting a fractal/fractured psyche within himself that becomes more apparent as “The Discourse” emerges.
This brings us to “Part Two: The Empty Discourse,” in which the narrator’s writing is split into “The Discourse” and “Exercises.” The former essentially becomes free writing aimed at some therapeutic reconciliation between the Freudian ego and trauma or truth that the narrator believes is hidden from his conscious self by his unconscious. This takes place alongside the original “Exercises” featuring the ongoing battle between the narrator’s discipline and the chaotic nature of his household,  the family’s impending move to a new house, Alicia’s hyperactivity, and the appearance of a cat that baits the family dog with its comings and goings.
It becomes clear in “Part Two” that Empty Words is not really about the narrator’s attempt to reverse engineer the process of graphology, but is rather an insight, via introspective daily entries, into the embattled narrator’s struggle to come to terms with his present situation as well as the trajectory of his life thus far. Dreams and Freudian terminology receive frequent mention throughout the novel as the narrator struggles to get a hold on what it really is that bothers him so very much, creating immense psychological stress and physical degradation via excessive smoking and lack of exercise. This struggle for clarity through self-regulated therapy-by-writing is what makes “The Discourse” so compelling. Here, “empty words” become the narrator’s attempt to make sense of himself via words that come close to, but cannot really pin down, that unnameable “something” alluded to in the prologue:
“Something within me, which is not me, which I search for”
“Something
Which is close to love but not quite love,
Which could be confused with freedom,
With truth,
With the being’s absolute identity—–
But which can’t be contained in words”
While this “something” is un-signifiable through words, there are points in “The Discourse” where we get a glimpse into the probable causes for the narrator’s psychic discomfort. Initially, “The Discourse” focuses on the family dog, whom the narrator gradually liberates by slowly widening a hole in their backyard fence. The symbolic freeing of the dog through an eroding defense is compared to “another, psychological gap, which I’m also gradually widening with some kind of freedom in mind.” It is through this free writing that the narrator discovers a point of trauma and dissociation in his past, when he left Montevideo for Buenos Aires in 1985, a painful moment that resulted in a choice “to anesthetise myself instead.” Yet Empty Words suggests that this process may not necessarily be liberating, as the dog returns at one point with an injured eye and is found developing other erratic behaviours, like burying meat that eventually rots in the garden. Regardless, “The Discourse” stops some two months later, following the narrator’s glimpse of that “something,” when a chance encounter with a recording of Enrique Rodríguez’s tango orchestra gives him vital insight into his being. The narrator grows comfortable with the forgotten fragments of his life, claiming, “I’m not interested in finding answers anymore for a few moments I glimpsed those fragments of memory.”
True closure remains elusive, however, as the handwriting exercises continue in parallel to and beyond “The Discourse” in increasingly dishevelled attempts to enact some sort of control over the chaos in the narrator’s life. “Part Three” features a narrator increasingly detached from his exercises, becoming almost frustrating as he leaves large gaps between entries and describes  a “fragmented” mind “in the grip of a psychological paralysis.” Any curiosity of the reader’s to know more is deflected by statements like “I’m tired of being more specific, and I don’t want to repeat myself. After all, this is just a handwriting exercise.” Other issues annoy or provide the narrator with reasons to procrastinate, including a lack of a proper workspace, bad weather, the non-stop buzzing of a generator, and the usual disruptions of dog and family. Eventually, other distressing circumstances are revealed to the reader belatedly and without detail, as the narrator reflects on these events and is filled with a newfound, if vague, determination “to turn back toward myself” and “[return] to a normal life.”
Thus the narrative comes to a somewhat abrupt close as the narrator appears more stable and determined to move on in a positive fashion, having come to terms with the things he cannot change, “the consequences of things you’ve already done.” Whether this is satisfactory for the reader is a different question, as one eventually realises the paradoxes of the “diary” that is Empty Words. What is stranger than the narrator’s estrangement from himself is the foregrounded estrangement of the reader from the text, or any text, where words threaten to be “empty,” incomplete signifiers. We are not explicitly told why the exercises come to an end, or if they do at all, but are instead left with a text that operates as a metacommentary on writing as both “a tool for exploring the unconscious and a by-product of those explorations.” That this is done throughout with humour, self-deprecating yet sincere introspection, and poetic insights into the mundane life of the narrator is Levrero’s primary success.
Ultimately, Empty Words is a sufficiently striking full-length introduction of Levrero to the English-speaking world, as well as a not-too-serious reflection on the possibilities of writing and its relationship with internal and external worlds. That being said, as anyone who has read Levrero’s short story “The Abandoned House” in Asymptote’s Summer 2015 issue would know, his oeuvre has plenty more to offer in the surrealist, dream-like, genre-bending vein. I have a sense that Empty Words is only the beginning of the potential Levrero has for English-language readers, and am looking forward to more of his work appearing in translation in future. - Chloe Lim
https://www.asymptotejournal.com/blog/2019/07/11/that-unnameable-something-mario-levreros-empty-words-in-review/


This riddling novel is the English-language debut of the Uruguayan writer Mario Levrero (1940-2004). His translator, Annie McDermott, tells us in an introduction that he was an uncategorisable cult figure formed of omnivorous influences, from comic strips to tango music. “It’s a mistake to expect literature to come only from literary sources,” he told a rare interviewer, “like expecting a cheesemaker to eat nothing but cheese.”
Seemingly autobiographical, Empty Words (1996) is set between 1989 and 1991, taking the form of the diary of a depressed and overweight fiction writer with eczema. His mother has just had a stroke and his wife wants an expensive new house, which he’s hoping to fund with a pay rise from his job, setting crossword puzzles.
When a friend says handwriting exercises might help him feel better, he ditches his typewriter for a pen and sets about making his crabbed script more uniform and free-flowing, without pausing to worry what his words mean. “I know these daily exercises will do wonders for my health and character... catapulting me blissfully into a life of happiness, joy, money, and success with women and in other games of chance.”
There’s a dry humour here. In his entry for 6 October 1990, he pats himself on the back for keeping up his regime; yet the previous entry is dated 4 October. “I think the antidepressants are starting to do something,” he says later. “I’m definitely noticing the side effects, anyway.” His plea for a pay rise gets him fired, by alerting his bosses that they’ve been overpaying him.
In 1990, Uruguay had only recently surfaced from more than a decade of military rule, a period in which torture, political imprisonment and disappearances were commonplace. It’s probably no coincidence that, while Levrero’s narrator craves meaning-free prose, concentrating only on each letter’s strokes and loops, he still finds himself haunted by the years between 1985 and 1989, when he suddenly left the country for Argentina, for reasons kept hazy. “A vague narrative relating to a war and various soldiers or policemen I had to hide from” features among his recurring dreams, some comically erotic, others plain surreal.
At the same time, his travails could belong to any writer, scorning interruption while secretly craving it; his teenage son, (“he’s seen his name written down and wants to know what this is all about... so I write: Juan Ignacio is a fool”), his pet dog and the noisy electricity substation next door are among various things enabling his inactivity. Despairing of “an environment where everything colludes to make you aim low”, he resents being “bound by the omnipotent will of a woman who is in turn completely bound by social conventions”: his wife just wants to celebrate Christmas.
McDermott tells us that, in his first novel, The City, Levrero set out “almost ... to translate Kafka into Uruguayan”. I half-wondered if Empty Words was his shot at Thomas Bernhard; in particular, the Austrian’s 1982 novel Concrete, about another sickly procrastinator blaming all and sundry for his inability to finish a book, although Levrero – at least on this evidence – feels the sunnier writer, relishing the mundane comedy of household dynamics as much as more cosmic jokes of existence. Just as you’re wondering where it’s all going, a last-minute revelation concerning the narrator’s mother confirms a lingering suspicion that the real action in this teasing jeu d’esprit lies between the lines, not on them, as the writing itself begins to look like a form of displacement activity.
As a calling card for Levrero’s talent, it’s certainly enticing. Next up, we’re told, is The Luminous Novel, which contains “a 450-page prologue explaining why it was impossible to write the book itself”. Can’t wait. -
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/30/empty-words-mario-levrero-review-uruguays-kafka


Immerse yourself in the literary culture of Latin America and it will not be long before you encounter the following observation: Chile ­produces poets, Mexico produces novelists, Argentina produces short-story writers, and Uruguay produces los raros – the strange ones.
There can be exceptions to such statements , but th e translation of Empty Words (originally published in Spanish in 1996, and now available in English for the first time) lends the final clause of the proposition an undeniable force . Here is a book that introduces us to a Uruguayan author Mario Levrero , who died in 2004 and a raro of the first degree.
His novel chronicles the efforts of a writer (similar in many respects to Levrero himself) to elevate his character by embarking on a series of daily exercises designed to improve his handwriting. The book’s unnamed narrator works from his home in Uruguay’s Colonia del Sacramento , where he endures the passing of the “depressingly oppressive” seasons in the company of “a woman, a child, a dog and a cat” and “a big invisible clock [that] marks the same time for every day, every month, every year” . He charts the evolution of his project by recording in a series of diary entries the concerns, setbacks and progressions generated by his foray into calligraphical refinement.
The motives come from the recognition that he has been living for some time in a sorry psychological state, often waking to a sense of metaphysical unease . “ For too long now – too many years – I’ve been living outside myself, concerned only with what’s going on around me ,” he says.
In order to combat this sense of self-alienation, he wonders if devoting himself ­assiduously to the craft of penmanship, and stripping his writing of all literary concerns, might enable him to make a journey inwards in a quest to find the elusive essence of his being.
As the narrator journeys towards his inner self – “the miraculous being that lives inside me and is able, among so many other extraordinary things, to fabricate interesting stories and cartoons” – he striv es to become the artist of his own destiny . He finds himself distracted by the presence of his lazy son , who keeps dropping by for chats about romance , and worries that his attempt to divest his writing of novelistic concerns is showing signs of failing.
These exercises are becoming less calligraphical and more literary as time goes on; there’s a discourse – a style, a form, more than an idea – that won’t leave me alone, and it’s getting the better of me ,” the narrator says. What he means is that, despite his best efforts, another kind of text is fighting its way on to the page , a text to do with time, emptiness, anxiety.
None of this is as daunting as it sounds. Levrero writes, on the whole, with lightness, economy and precision, and throughout the book the predominant tone – beautifully captured by Annie McDermott’s elegant translation – is one of appealing curiosity and bemused wonder. Although there is little here to engage with in terms of plot, barely a page goes by without the reader encountering a charming phrase, observation or moment of humanity.
Often these moments contain a humour that is dry, deadpan, sardonic or possessed of a peculiar kind of pathos, as when the narrator opens a diary entry by wryly assuming that the record of his humdrum activities is already assured of posthumous fame . “Allow me to record, so it’s known in the centuries to come, that I am writing this at 8:30 in the morning .”
A similar moment comes when he remarks upon his ongoing battle to master the mystifying workings of his computer . “The problem of making sounds on the computer is still plaguing me ,” the narrator says.
In addition to these lovely moments, Levrero also offers moving reflections on what his narrator calls “the magical influence of graphology”. “Big writing, big me. Small writing, small me. Beautiful writing, beautiful me .” It shows an aptitude for giving a voice to his thoughts in a manner that is edifying, memorable and affirmative.
In such formulations, time is characterised as a phenomenon that permits us the luxury of enjoying while we are alive “the cold that awaits us in the tomb that bears our name”.
To reconnect with your inner being is to make contact with an entity that is “ part of the divine spark that roams ­tirelessly through the universe”.
Not all of Levrero’s prose is so stirring: he has a weakness for dead expressions such as “blissfully unaware” and “time, the great healer”. But these do little to diminish the force and freshness of the book as whole. Redemptive, enlarging, poignant, humane – it is a testament to the value of the strange. - Matthew Adams
https://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/books/book-review-empty-words-is-redemptive-enlarging-poignant-and-humane-1.871456


I’m writing this review by hand, something I rarely do. No matter how hard I try, I find it impossible to write legibly, let alone beautifully, and my handwriting has been this bad since at least high school. But if I’m to follow the example set by Mario Levrero, I should try my best not to get distracted from the task of handwriting.
Empty Words is the first novel to be translated into English by the Uruguayan author Levrero (1940-2004). Originally published in 1996, the book follows the attempts of the narrator (a stand-in for the author who, for the purposes of this review, I’ll call Levrero) to improve his handwriting through daily writing exercises. He hopes this “self-therapy” will help him improve in other areas of his scattered life, but when he sits down to his exercises, he can’t help but be distracted. Noise, heat, life responsibilities, family members, pets, and his own mind all conspire against him. He records these distractions, incorporating them into the exercises, although this results in a contradiction: without the distractions, Levrero would supposedly be happier, but the book would be less interesting. He writes: “If I want my handwriting to be good, I can only write about my handwriting, which becomes very monotonous. But writing only about my handwriting keeps my mind on what I’m doing and means I form the letters properly.”
Empty Words contains two threads: the handwriting exercises (complete with distractions) and what Levrero calls “The Discourse,” which has the stated aim of being about nothing. These two threads are interspersed throughout and every entry is dated. In the “Discourse,” Levrero believes writing about nothing will eventually reveal something authentic. “There’s a flow, a rhythm, a seemingly empty form; the discourse could end up addressing any topic or idea.” As with the writing exercises, the rules here are strictly limiting. Seen another way, they are freeing. By throwing off the burden of an idea, Levrero can follow his “Discourse” wherever it takes him. He quickly turns to his dog, Pongo, as subject matter. “It’s false content,” Levrero writes, “or perhaps semi-false, since, like all things, it could easily be seen as symbolic of other, deeper things.”
Levrero writes about gradually pushing open a gap in the fence so that Pongo could escape. When the dog returns from its disappearance with a bad eye injury, the author is overwhelmed with guilt. But what did he expect? Throughout the book, Levrero demonstrates a habit of falling into his own traps. It might be that Levrero focuses so much of the “Discourse” on the needy and neglected Pongo because he sees so much of himself in the dog. If he notices this parallel, he doesn’t say. The author admits to being afraid that the reader “who isn’t me would have already have found something of the true content of the discourse in these lines. . . . How humiliating to give myself away to the reader before I’ve given anything away to myself, blissfully unaware that anything’s been given away at all!”
When Levrero turns his attention to an impending move, his anxiety ratchets up, and when he moves into the new house and notices a nearby electric substation that won’t stop buzzing, he feels even worse. In response to this and other frustrations—including the demands of his nagging child Ignacio and his partner Alicia, who he thinks doesn’t understand his decision-making process—he retreats into his exercises: “Concentration. Relaxation. Focus on forming the letters and focus on your muscles.”
Given how unhappy he is with his surroundings, why doesn’t Levrero pack up and leave? Is he afraid of returning, like Pongo, with some injury inflicted by the outside world? “When you reach a certain age, you’re no longer the protagonist of your own actions: all you have left are the consequences of things you’ve already done,” he writes. “I can’t get free of the tangle of consequences, and there’s no point trying to be the protagonist of my own actions again, but what I can do is find my lost self among these new patterns and learn to live again, only differently.”
What I’ve written down is barely legible, especially the letters g and r. I wasn’t able to concentrate on forming the words because I was too distracted by the difference between Mario Levrero and the character Mario Levrero created of himself. On the bright side, there were no interruptions. - Adrian Glass-Moore
https://www.raintaxi.com/empty-words/


The sweetly daffy narrator of “Empty Words” is comic stand-in for its Uruguayan author, sharing a wife, son, dog and professions: novelist and constructor of crossword puzzles. In order to improve his character and find fulfillment, happiness and money, he embarks on the discipline of “graphological self-therapy.” In other words, words as beautifully crafted handwriting. One could see it as a cerebral KonMari method of decluttering the mind. And so begins a heroic if batty effort at meticulous form devoid of content.
It is, of course, impossible not to make sense when using words with dictionary meanings in grammatical sentences. But the narrator wages a guerrilla war on meaning by constantly harping on the act of writing and questioning its relation to physical reality. He will say one thing and immediately contradict himself. For example, one has to have beliefs, expressible in words, “Which means that to get anywhere in life, you have to believe in something. In other words, you have to be wrong.”
What results is a very funny satire on the realistic novel with its emphasis on character development, progress from one point to another, big themes of love and hate, life and death and so on.


Nothing develops here, and important matters, such as the narrator’s relationship with his wife and son, his fraught relations with his mother — who dies in a brief, passing mention — are treated as peripheral topics or elided altogether.
The continuity of the realistic novel is torn into bits of interruption. Wife and son appear in the doorway to ask him to do something and he bats them away as he concentrates on forming the letter G.
A murder warrants only a brief mention as he worries about the best way to form an X.
So what increasingly gets his attention are trivial matters. He notices passing aches and pains, the effects of changing weather on his body, the increasing dust and chaos around him as he and the family move from one house to another. Star billing goes to the dog Pongo and his mysterious comings and goings, and the choreography of his relations with the cat.
The more our man flails against imposing a verbal order on his life, the more chaotic his circumstances become. But underneath the willed nonsense, a sly philosophy of language presses more and more against the feverishly jaunty surface. More and more, the opaque, mostly illogical narratives of his dreams obsess him, and he runs up against the fundamental question of the self. Is there such an entity outside of words? What kind of narration comes closest to translating self and world?
Ironically, Mario Levrero’s brilliant little tour de force, first published in 1996, is an extremely realistic book. It captures the daily self-interrupting chatter of the mind which goes hither and yon, notices odds and ends, does not narrate from a beginning to middle and end. What makes us on a daily basis is not tragedy or even pain, nor sparks of joy. It is thinking about where I left my keys, dreading that interview, wondering if there are enough potatoes for dinner, sighing at the rain.
- Brigitte Frase

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