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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Horacio Castellanos Moya

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To purchase Senselessness

Title: Senselessness
Author: Horacio Castellanos Moya
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 142 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Senselessness - US
Insensatez - US
Senselessness - UK
Senselessness - Canada
Senselessness - India
Déraison - France
  • Spanish title: Insensatez
  • Translated by Katherine Silver

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effective handling of Latin American horrors

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 9-11/2008 Britt Peterson
The NY Sun . 28/5/2008 Benjamin Lytal
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2009 Tayt Harlin
San Francisco Chronicle A 25/5/2008 Mauro Javier Cardenas
The Village Voice . 17/6/2008 Jed Lipinski

  From the Reviews:
  • "Castellanos Moya invigorates these facts by using them to consider the effects of memory and language, or the ways in which we absorb and tragically re-create the stories of our past. (...) Castellanos Moya’s scabrous, forceful, and very funny style is addictive." - Britt Peterson, Bookforum

  • "In many ways a black comedy, Senselessness is still a political book. Its angry confessional could be the work of an American writer in the vein of Philip Roth, whose character Mickey Sabbath comes to mind, but Mr. Moya's chief demons are political, not sexual." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

  • "By the end of this short novel, Castellanos Moya’s title has achieved a fully terrifying meaning." - Tayt Harlin, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "This carefully arranged mix of many bits of testimony and a dearth of complete scenes gives the reader the impression of advancing into the dark, surrounded by a cemetery of voices portending terrors that will be fully realized toward the end of the book." - Mauro Javier Cardenas, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Senselessness reads like a vicious, novella-length rant by the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard -- had Bernhard spent his developmental years drinking mescal in a corrupt, oppressively Catholic Latin America and having sex with passionate Spanish women. (...) The process by which the victims' testimony gradually engulfs the narrator's consciousness is Senselessness's most impressive achievement." - Jed Lipinski, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Senselessness is narrated by an author who, like Castellanos Moya, has had to leave his native El Salvador because of something he wrote that upset a great many people -- in the narrator's case, an article claiming: "El Salvador was the first Latin American country to have an African president" (by which he meant not the colour of the man's skin, but his: "dictatorial attitude and his refusal to hear the opinions of those whose opinions differed from his"), in Castellanos Moya's case because of the attack on the country in his 1997 novel El asco: Thomas Bernhard en San Salvador.
       The narrator has agreed to edit an eleven-hundred-page report documenting: "the genocide perpetrated by this country's army against the unarmed indigenous population" -- this country being an unnamed Latin American one that is, however, clearly modeled on Guatemala (down to the report and several of the events described in the novel, including its violent conclusion). He finds the job to be bigger than he had been led to believe it would be -- and considerably more harrowing. He is not pleased about being employed on a project of the "perfidious Catholic Church" -- and to find himself working in the archbishop's palace, no less -- and not too comfortable in a country where those responsible for the atrocities the manuscript he is working on documents still wield most of the power.
       "I am not complete in the mind", is the opening sentence of the novel, one that the narrator finds in one of the accounts and highlights, and which he understands all too well. The novel is a book full of senselessness -- of the atrocities that were committed, and of trying to deal with them in any manner. Faced with all these stories, the narrator can only wonder about the absurdity of it all, and finds himself not too complete in mind either..
       Castellanos Moya has his narrator ramble on in long sentences, a flowing rant of impressions and thoughts that can't be expressed in clipped, precise sentences. The narrator is staggered, and he writes like he is punch-drunk. The narrative is all clear enough, but also veers towards the unfocussed, the horrors too much to focus in on them for too long at a time.
       The narrator's life around the project is also in some disarray, from petty gossip spread in a newspaper column to undermine him to his sexual (mis-)adventures. Eventually he takes refuge in a spiritual retreat centre, to work completely undisturbed -- but of course it is not the distractions of the everyday that are getting to him, it is the reality of the horrors that he reads about.
       Senselessness also displays considerable dark humour, and despite its long sentences (and/or because of Katherine Silver's smooth renderings of them into English) reads relatively easily, the horrors made digestible -- which is part of Castellanos Moya's horrible joke. It is an effective small novella of confronting the outrages committed in, and history of, Central America, a flailing attempt to come to some grips with it -- concluding abruptly with an email message the narrator receives, that ends with an appropriate summing-up:

Everybody's fucked. Be grateful you left.

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Senselessness: Reviews: Horacio Castellanos Moya: Other books by Horacio Castellanos Moya under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Horacio Castellanos Moya was born in Honduras in 1957 and grew up in El Salvador. He now lives abroad.

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© 2008-2011 the complete review

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