Best Untranslated Writers: Mario Levrero | Juan Pablo Villalobos | Granta Magazine

Best Untranslated Writers: Mario Levrero

Juan Pablo Villalobos

I’m not sure when I first came across Mario Levrero. It was probably in the...

Translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey

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

Juan Pablo Villalobos was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1973. He studied marketing and Spanish literature. He has written on topics as diverse as the influence of the avant-garde on the work of César Aira and the flexibility of pipelines for electrical installations. He now lives in Brazil and has two Mexican-Brazilian-Italian-Catalan children. Down the Rabbit Hole was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award 2011, and his latest book, Quesadillas, was published in 2013.

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Translated by Rosalind Harvey

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