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Augusto Monterroso: Lo demás es silencio [The Rest Is Silence]
Monterroso is known for his short stories, particularly his very short stories. This is the only work of his that could be called a novel and even that might be stretching a point, though there are quite a few works on this site that are less novels than this. It is a compilation of texts by and about the fictitious Mexican writer, Eduardo Torres, and is Monterroso mocking the pompous, local hero writer who is really not very good. The first part consists of a collection, put together by a publisher, of articles about Torres, written by his wife and brother, his valet and an anonymous friend. The second part consists of articles by Torres, while the third part is a selection of his aphorisms and sayings. The fourth part is called spontaneous collaborations, which consists of an analysis of a work called The Donkey of San Blas by the unknown Alirio Gutiérrez, who may or may not be Torres himself. The work finishes with a final note by Torres himself.
Torres is from San Blas in Mexico. As one of the many footnotes tells us, San Blas is fictitious, in that there are many towns and villages of that name in Mexico. However, it may well be Mexico City, not least because it has a metro and other features found in Mexico City. He is now deemed to be the Grand Old Man of San Blas literature, receiving (to his wife’s annoyance) many visitors. Indeed, the first item by a friend is about a delegation from the town coming to pay homage to Torres. What is interesting is that the two items by his brother and wife are not particularly flattering. His wife points out that he has, since they first married (they met when young), always had his nose in a book (she often wakes up to find a book sticking in her back, as he has fallen asleep reading). He seems to spend a lot of time buying second-hand books in poor condition of obscure poetry, something his wife also does not approve of. His brother is rather cool towards him, saying that he (the brother) now lives elsewhere and rarely sees his famous brother. His valet focuses on his own reading (he seems to spend much of the time reading popular novels) and merely recounts gossip. In short, it seems that while Torres may be held up by outsiders as a great man, those closest to him have a more realistic view of him.
However, once we read the selection of his works, we wonder where his reputation came from. He writes an introduction to a new edition of Don Quixote but the following article is another article, pointing out elementary errors made by Torres. A bland article on whether a translator should follow the letter or the spirit of the original is next, followed by a poor critical text on Góngora. He then gives us his guide for writers,m e.g. When you have something to say, say it. When you don’t, say it anyway. Always write. This presumably has been his problem. Much of what he has written was not worth saying. The rest of his comments are equally banal and pointless. His speech to the Congress of Writers of the Whole Continent starts by urging better relations between men and women writers and carries on in the same vein. He even reviews (badly) Monterroso’s Animales y hombres. And his aphorisms and sayings are anodyne, unoriginal and often stupid.
It is all great fun but you have to wonder why Monterroso bothered. Was he poking fun at himself, i.e. is Torres based on him? Was he picking on a specific writer which the in-crowed could recognise, even though we might not? Or was he really just mocking pompous writers in general? He goes to great lengths to vary the styles of the different contributors and manages to stuff in numerous classical and literary references (which are sometimes faulted in the footnotes, e.g. when Torres combines Albrecht Dürer and Gustave Doré to produce Gustave Dürer). He clearly spent some time on this and gave it great thought but though it is an enjoyable read, you will be better off with his short stories.
First published 1978 by J Mortiz
No English translation