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Emamemi

Emamemi

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The Obscene Bird of Night (Verba Mundi) - Jose Donoso The Obscene Bird of Night is one strange, twisted, haunting, obscene book! It may well be the most difficult novel I've read so far. There were moments when I felt that I could connect to it and even understand it, but most of the time I felt like floating inside a grotesque nightmare, with walled-up windows and doors, not being able to find my way out. If, by chance, I was brusquely expelled into reality, I was compelled by an utter fascination to go back in and have my brains turned to mush.

You could almost hear this book breathing, like a a shape-shifting sort of being which is carefully wrapped up in several layers of phantasmagorias, starting to resemble the mythical Imbunche of the ancient Chileans - a deformed monster with all its nine body orifices sewn in, obstructed, with one of its legs bent backwards, over its back. Do not attempt to visualize it, or you may feel sick.
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Where should I start when talking about The Obscene Bird of Night? What I experienced from the very beginning was a deep confusion. I couldn't understand who were those people, who was talking, who was the narrator. Gradually, with pen and paper in hand, I began to make my way through this dense and chaotic jungle of a book.

The protagonist is Humberto Peñaloza, who lives (or better said, hides) in the House of Spiritual Exercises of the Incarnation in Chimba, under a makeshift personality - that of the Mute (El Mudito). He used to be the secretary of Jerónimo Azcoitía, a senator who comes from a wealthy, old family who founded the House.


There is a whole cast of characters and I'll name just a few: Inés Azcoitía, Jerónimo's wife; Iris Mateluna, an orphan living in the House who, at some point, is believed to be pregnant; Peta Ponce, Inés' nursemaid; Boy, the monstrous son. Frankly, this enumeration does injustice to the immense complexity of the book, it is bland and sterile, just like the book is rich and full of meaning.

The narrator is omniscient, omnipresent, it impersonates almost every character in this book, sometimes in the course of the same sentence. The point of view shifts abruptly, like a ray of light bouncing from a rough crystal. After some time I started to follow the change in character more quickly, which was a relief. They seem like a row of empty houses, the deserted setting of a movie, in which a single mad janitor enters them randomly and, for a moment, infuses them with life.

Just as the narrator's voice passes from one character to another in a chaotic manner, also their personalities undergo several changes: throughout the book they play different roles, just like in a multiplied one-man show. It is not a radical transformation, it is just perceived as such: for example, Humberto Peñaloza is, in turns, a poor and obscure young man/a failed writer/a monster through his normality, among deformed people/a mute and deaf/the seventh old woman deprived of sex/a baby boy who continues to shrink/an Imbunche.
Iris Mateluna is an orphan, but also Gina the slut/bearer of a miraculous pregnancy/mother of an old-woman-turned-child/Madonna with a child/Inés the pious.

The characters also shift their traits - Jerónimo steals Humberto's wound, while the latter steals Jerónimo's potency. Inés Azcoitía imitates the voices of those around her, impersonating them. Past and present seem to cohabitate, as if the hands of a witch has confused time, breaking its line and arranging the segments in parallel.

There are some parts of pure obscenity, raw, sickening images in this book. But there are also parts of pure beauty: unending paragraphs, in which the reader almost gets lost; a backyard full of broken statues of saints, from which new saints are randomly built. There are the phantom-like old maids who populate the House, with their habit of hiding trifles under their beds, with the strength they've gained through their decrepitude, with the power they have over their former masters, by knowing their filth and their weaknesses. There is the legend of Inés the pious/Inés the witch, who was confined in a monastery by her father. There is the haunting story of the monstrous Boy, who was surrounded by a world of deformed people just like himself, thus reversing the meaning of normality and beauty.

The whole novel is infused with the myth of the Imbunche, even the House is transformed gradually into one, as the windows are bricked-up, rooms and corridors hidden under false walls, as if they never existed. There is a continuous switch between inside and outside, dream and reality. There are so many mind-blowing details in The Obscene Bird of Night that I almost tend to forget the bad parts (because they were, too).

I have a lot of other things to say, but I would never finish this review. Maybe I'll come back and add some more thoughts... Anyway, I wish I had someone to discuss it with, it would take some hours and a couple of beers to turn the matters on all sides. I don't regret the time spent reading it, that's for sure.