Reduced to simplest terms, Palinuro of Mexico
tells the tale of a pair of cousins (and lovers)--medical student Palinuro and nurse Estefania--who spend much of their time assembling skeleton out of a random collection of bones. But that would be like saying that Joyce's Ulysses
is about a late-night stroll. This challenging and rewarding novel has much bigger things on its mind. Built around digressions, flashbacks, shifting time, and a narrator who is "not just one character but several, as well as all characters at once." Fernando del Paso plays with narration, storytelling, time, and the notion of creation.
From Publishers Weekly
Virgil's Palinurus was Aeneas's helmsman who fell victim to the god of sleep. His namesake in this complex, beautiful novel, is also a guide to a novel that straddles the conscious and subconscious, life and death. A combination of Dante's Virgil, Lemuel Gulliver and the little prince, Palinuro leads readers through congeries of cultural and medical reference. Having been raised largely free of a "disgust for life," Palinuro, his beloved cousin Estefania and pedantic cousin Walter describe the body in detail that both repels and enchants. On the face of it, this is the story of Palinuro, a more or less contemporary medical student who lives with his cousin Estefania, and an overheated imagination. But it is also about the power (and powerlessness) of words to define and influence. Palinuro's obsessive fantasizing about the personal life of objects in his room (including an unbeatable passage on the dying days of his mirror); the boarder, don Prospero's compulsive reading of the encyclopedia; and a Proustian description of childhood, are all searingly beautiful. Del Paso's characterizations, often an accumulation of details that become sharply focused, are brilliant, as when he describes Grandmother Altagracia, "who played 'Clair de Lune' on the piano and knew how to lower her lashes in gatherings to hide her spiritual myopia, read the Reader's Digest Selections and remembered having once seen a Titian original." And little beats the humorous pastiche of "Palinuro's Travels Among the Advertising Agencies and other Imaginary Islands." What defines the book, though, are the fetid, pullulating, intimate, miraculous realities of life and its ultimate fragility. (July) FYI: When it was originally published in Mexico in 1977, Palinuro won the Romulo Galegos prize, which is awarded every five years for the best Spanish-language novel, and won the Prix au Meilleur Livre Etranger in 1985 when it was translated into French.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.