THE OBSCENE BIRD OF NIGHT BY JOSE DONOSO

There is a lot of nonsense spoken and written about The Obscene Bird of Night, the worst kind of nonsense: pretentious nonsense. Just check out the wiki page for it:

“In the novel, the intellectual/spatial manifestation of the Imbunche is the self-imposed alienation from the outside world, i.e. an adoption of the ideal of the physical Imbunche in terms of space, with the purpose of taking away the power that others have over the individual and choosing a life of non-existence. This auto-segregation is achieved by fortifying one’s living space.”

Anyone who is inspired to pick up the book after reading that needs to take a serious look at themselves.

The thing is, this book is so near impenetrable, is, for the most part, so incomprehensible, that reading a clear and confident interpretation of it is like someone telling you they have seen Jesus on a taco.

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No one can tell them that what they think they see isn’t there, of course, but, y’know, one ought to take it with a pinch of salt.

The plot, such as it is, contains two distinct strands. The first is centred around a young orphan girl, Iris, who lives in a mansion/casa populated by a strange group of old nuns and a deaf mute, Mudito. The girl becomes pregnant as a consequence of her involvement with a man wearing a papier mache head. The nuns seem to believe, due to Iris’ assumed virginity, that the forthcoming child is the second coming, will result in the birth of their saviour, while Mudito [one of a few possible fathers] and the owner of the mansion/casa, Jeronimo Azcoitia [also a possible father], see the child as a potential heir. Surrounding this apparently simple tale, like gaudy wrapping paper, is enough eroticised horror and gonzo weirdness to give David Cronenberg a stiffy.

The second story takes place, one assumes, prior to these events, and involves a terribly deformed child who is deliberately isolated from normal society and brought up in a community of other freaks. His father, Jeronimo Azcoitia, is the one who makes this decision, and fashions this community, so that his son will never experience the feeling of being abnormal or inferior; so that, as the most freakish of the freaks, and the ruler of the house, he will still be exceptional and understand what it means to be aristocratic. His plan works to such an extent that when Jeronimo visits the casa to see his son he is viewed with fear and suspicion. Eventually Boy, which is the term by which the son is referred, leaves the casa and ventures into the outside world, but so dislikes the experience that he asks a doctor to perform an operation to wipe his memory of it. Wonderful satire, no?

Look, this novel doesn’t make sense, you won’t work it out. That’s something that one must become accustomed to in order to enjoy the grotesque and macabre carnival that Donoso sets up in your brain. There are multiple narrators, or the same narrator shifting through multiple personalities. Getting your head around, and keeping up with, everything that goes on is like trying to unfasten a girl’s bra when drunk out of your mind.

The real point of interest for me was that apparently Donoso wrote this novel once, then had a mental breakdown and rewrote it. This division between pre-breakdown and post-breakdown is clearly apparent when one considers the two main stories in the book. Boy’s tale, roughly in the centre of the novel, is a remnant of the work he produced originally and is the only section written in a linear, straightforward manner. It is, for me at least, also the most engaging and enjoyable portion of the book. So, why then, when I perceive so many faults, do i rate the book so highly? Because The Obscene Bird of Night is a visceral experience, is so batshit crazy as to be utterly thrilling.

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