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Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya


by Horacio Castellanos Moya

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A spiraling into the madness of the mind, but is it madness when the world's just as mad. The book deals with the genocide of indigenous persons in El Salvadore with enough black humor and distance to make it possible to read while still being very affecting. ( )
  snash | May 20, 2014 |
Wow. Trippy and gripping. This is Latin/Central American fiction like I haven't read before. Very urgent and paranoid, but also quite desperately funny at times, which of course only heightens the sense of terror at other times.

This is the first of Moya's eight novels to be translated to English. Here's hoping for more very soon. The guy's a star. ( )
  piccoline | Feb 5, 2014 |

What I noticed almost from the very start of this book was that the character was going to be a familiar one to me. Not so much a character I had already met in fiction but in truth a man I already knew to some degree in the work I last got a living from for over twenty-two years. I wrote a film script titled Alphonso Bow several years ago and this character I knew in real life made his debut on the pages of my fiction. The screenplay went on to be made into a film by my oldest son and enjoyed a nice run while traveling around the country being shown in several independent film festivals.

This chief character in Senselessness is smarter than mine however, and more articulate. His language is very sophisticated when sober, and he has been trained in writing so he speaks well on the page as narrator. However, my guy and he are both flawed characters and really not too likable. But I am drawn to these types of men. I love having lunch with them and hearing them spew off about anything that might come into their minds. For me, this is the most significant character trait these men have in common. Whatever comes to mind gets spewed out of their mouths as if they had no filter in which to clean their thoughts or language before their spontaneous obstruction regurgitates. The speed in which their minds and voices play out is dumbfounding to me, and purely entertaining. I do not see my old friend much these days anymore because he tends to bore me. Repeatedly different versions of the same story. He would say we do not see each other because I no longer help him be employed. But truthfully, as much as I do appreciate him, it is the same opinionated garbage continuously spewing forth from his mouth that I am literally sick in the face from.

But I do like this book. I am over halfway in and still feel it is relevant and extremely entertaining. Unlike some others who have read it, I want it not to end. There is little about the man that endears me to him other than his extremely flawed opinions of women and sex and his mistrust of all those around him. He is disparaging and judgmental, and actually someone I would probably not like if I had to deal with him on a daily basis or if I were expected to be his constant friend. But I am not his friend. I am only listening in to all his conversations and the rapid thoughts that race constantly through his mind. So far, Moya has done an excellent job of keeping his own work contained within the framework of a somewhat raging lunatic. Not an easy thing to do. People resembling this chief character seem almost unreal because they become caricatures of what has seriously taken over their minds. It is almost as if they cannot help themselves and are looking for somebody to save them. Or at least listen to them releasing the tension that builds constantly and unforgivingly all through their busy minds. They are unreal to those of us in more control of our own impulses. But these people really do exist and I will be interested to see how Moya finishes this tale. I am not going to compare Moya to Bernhard as there is really nobody like him. There are plenty of writers who have invoked the spirit of Bernhard in their work. But the challenge for me is in the character each writer develops and if they each have their own unique voice and ideas of the world even within the somewhat similar energetic rantings and ravings that can bring to mind a writer the likes and brilliance of Thomas Bernhard.

I especially enjoyed what I thought was a well-made sex scene, nervous and as claustrophobic as can be, and almost totally unrewarding given the circumstances actually of her god-awful smelly feet and the soon-to-be-returning military boyfriend. Again, the scene reminded me of my old friend Alphonso who cares only for his own needs being met and always finds fault with whomever (and the more the merrier) he is having sex with. But this character in Moya's book is as well a nutcase surely, though highly educated and with gifts, and all the countless imaginings in his head are delightful for a person like me standing outside it and safely anchored in a warm house in a more-than-welcome neighborhood.

With only three chapters remaining to read (out of the original twelve I began with) I cannot fathom Moya blowing this tale to smithereens. There is tension, danger, and deceit; enough for all of us to mash our teeth on while waiting for more gore. This is a lively novel, and perhaps because of its short length, a bit too small to be considered by those who count a masterpiece. But I might have to differ upon completion of this book. Of course, first I shall have to see if Moya succeeds in bringing this to a proper close, one that would bring justice to at least a few participants in this violent and quite nasty tale of control, and reeking of a vengeance unheard of since McCarthy's Blood Meridian. This book is not for the faint-hearted or those who find it too uncomfortable reading about bloody massacres and machete-wielding tortures resulting in multiple severed appendages.

"I am not complete in the mind," are the first seven words of the very first sentence of this book. I fathom now that Moya was originally speaking in a cleverly veiled way about his chief character instead of the chief character seemingly relating the words he had read in a one thousand one hundred page manuscript written as testimony by the Indian survivors of a brutal military dictatorship. This chief character is evidently becoming extremely unraveled, and all is not what it seems, especially to him. Because of the deftness of the author Moya I am really not sure who to believe here. I kind of think the chief character is on to something, but he certainly is a whacko supreme so I also have my doubts about the whole affair. And add to the confusion that his "friend" Erick who got him the job in the first place with the archdiocese has not made any friendly appearance in which to add any credibility to our chief character's suspicions. There is no proof at all that Erick is even a friend at all as the evidence does not support this general statement issued often from out of the mouth of this chief character who still has no name I am aware of.

Late in these last chapters the chief character, an obvious alcoholic, has gone without any booze in his system for several days now due to the penicillin he is injecting because of the venereal disease he contracted recently from one of his female associates referred to in a paragraph above where I was praising a certain sex scene and all its implications excluding that one. I am afraid the chief character is losing his mind. He is definitely unhinged and hallucinating while feverishly attempting to complete his copy-editing of the one thousand one hundred page testimony. By all accounts things are not looking promising for the chief character. The anxiety is ramping up to dangerous levels, and without serious medication or some stiff drinks I am certain our character is going down for a very hard fall.

This was a crazily rewarding novel to read. By all accounts somewhat political given the nature of that part of the world that Moya himself hails from though today it is said he resides in Iowa. And throughout this short book there was no in-your-face agenda, though exorbitantly extreme in its telling. The violence provocatively real along with the sex, but our chief character's mind remains, it seems, forever obscurely fucked. His relief is found in his wide abuse of alcohol, and certainly not in his remembering of the atrocities discovered in the thousand one hundred pages of testimony that will persist now until the end of time. ( )
  MSarki | Sep 25, 2013 |
A novel of madness. And total hilarity. And total horror. An "inferno of the mind" to borrow a phrase from the book.

If I were ever to teach a class on Kafka (ha), I would teach this book first. I haven't read any other book that is as Kafka as Kafka; Senselessness would be a perfect introduction to the spirit of the Czech writer, a primer on his obsessions with the labyrinth of absurdities we construct (or live in, without control).
( )
  pessoanongrata | Apr 1, 2013 |
Our narrator is a writer on his first day at work, editing testimonies of the survivors of the massacre of Indians in the mountain villages of the Andes. We learn that, thanks to a friend who remain faceless throughout the novel, he was taken on by the Catholic Church to do the tidying up job. It would not have been easy to find him another work -- he is a recent arrival in the capital, on the run from his own country's secret police right over the border, wanted for some unnamed revolutionary activity. Besides, the pay is good, even though he hated the institution. As he peruses the pages of testimonies of illiterate Indians, he is stunned by the eerie poetry of their description of the horrific events. I am not complete in the mind, was the first sentence to jump out at him and as he reads along, he finds more. He notes them down, and the lines begin to possess him. His is a delicate job so he knew he had to watch it, but this is almost beyond him -- the language, the expressions, following no syntax, jarring even, pierced and agitated him. The words expand and they torture his imagination. Beyond work, in his narrow world between girls and drink, they continue to pursue him until he assumes the terror of the survivors and victims, and everything around him turns into a grand conspiracy against his person, in his mind. But was the fear really just in his mind?

Senselessness is a tight little novel, shot with tension and delirious fear. Still our narrator manages to be comic, needless to say, darkly. Moya's writing is fluid, relentless, and the language brilliantly recreates the paranoia that our narrator is experiencing, though there is nothing of the chaos around him in the storytelling. A worthwhile read from a very fine writer. ( )
5 vote deebee1 | Sep 21, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Horacio Castellanos Moyaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Silver, KatherineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Isemene: Ja, konung, ej ens den sans vi föds med,
blir kvar i den som ondska drabbar,
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Till S.D. som fick mig att lova att inte tillägna henne den här boken.
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Jag är inte riktigt normal i huvudet, löd meningen som jag markerade med gul överstrykningspenna och som jag till och med skrev av i mitt privata anteckningsblock, för det här var inte vilken banal mening som helst, inget som någon hade hävt ur sig bara för skojs skull, långt därifrån, dessutom var det den mening som hade gjort starkast intryck på mig av det jag läst under min första arbetsdag, den mening som hade gjort mig alldeles snurrig efter min första djupdykning i de ettusen etthundra tätskrivna sidorna som min vän Erick hade lämnat på mitt skrivbord så att jag skulle kunna bilda mig en uppfattning om vad det var för slags jobb jag hade framför mig.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811217078, Paperback)

A Rainmaker Translation Grant Winner from the Black Mountain Institute: Senselessness, acclaimed Salvadoran author Horacio Castallanos Moya's astounding debut in English, explores horror with hilarity and electrifying panache.

A boozing, sex-obsessed writer finds himself employed by the Catholic Church (an institution he loathes) to proofread a 1,100 page report on the army's massacre and torture of thousands of indigenous villagers a decade earlier, including the testimonies of the survivors. The writer's job is to tidy it up: he rants, "that was what my work was all about, cleaning up and giving a manicure to the Catholic hands that were piously getting ready to squeeze the balls of the military tiger." Mesmerized by the strange Vallejo-like poetry of the Indians' phrases ("the houses they were sad because no people were inside them"), the increasingly agitated and frightened writer is endangered twice over: by the spell the strangely beautiful heart-rending voices exert over his tenuous sanity, and by real danger—after all, the murderers are the very generals who still run this unnamed Latin American country.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:29 -0400)

Without thinking about the extent to which this decision will change his life, the protagonist of Insensatez accepts his friend Erick?s proposal to revise the final version of a report about the genocide of the indigenous people of a Central American country.… (more)

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