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MONSTRUARY by Julián Ríos Kirkus Star

MONSTRUARY

By Julián Ríos (Author) , Edith Grossman (Translator)

Pub Date: March 16th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-40823-1
Publisher: Knopf

Another pun-derful literary extravaganza from the brilliant Spaniard making a name for himself as a contemporary equivalent of Joyce, Nabokov, and German experimentalist Arno Schmidt.

This time, Ríos takes a many-angled look at the career and psyche of eccentric artist Victor Mons (whose surname suggests both lofty eminence and pudendal earthiness). As the story begins, Mons is in the hospital, having landed there after a breakdown—one in which he impulsively destroyed a series of paintings he called his "Monstruary": images of the great monsters of antiquity and legend, literature and cinema, created to represent "the erotic scenes, models, lovers, and fetishes of his life and art." Mons's vacillations are observed and reported by acolytes and associates (as well as by himself). Most prominent of these is his cataloguer and friend Emil Alia, who also appeared in Larva (1990, not reviewed) and Loves That Bind (1998). What emerges from this babel of voices is a fragmented and funny portrait of the artist as both "monster" and genius-visionary, juxtaposed with crisp portrayals of such fetching characters as Mons's "night-errant model" and mistress, Eva Lalka, who adores the books of her Polish countryman Witold Gombrowicz; vaguely sinister "Joycentric" literary scholar Frank N. Reck; and Flaubert characters Bouvard and Pécuchet, now peddling their pseudointellectual wares on the Internet. It sounds forbidding but is actually very entertaining, thanks largely to the magnificent work of translator Grossman: a celebration—and appropriation—of lives and books (Henry James, Pierre Loti, Paul Cézanne, and Joyce himself are evoked here and there) that deftly illustrates the truth of Flaubert's dictum that "in literature nothing is really begun and nothing ended . . . everything is transformed and continued." And who but Ríos would think of using the image of the Gorgon in an ad for Gorgonzola cheese?

So much fun to read that you may not notice how remarkably inventive and suggestive it is. Ríos is an authentic enchanter.