In Paris in 1938 Pierre Pain ekes out a meagre living as a hypnotist and an acupuncturist.
He was a scientist but became both disillusioned and disabled in the First World War.
Now he sees a chance to redeem himself by curing the dying Peruvian poet César Vallejo.
Monsieur Pain is a short, dreamlike novel – circling around questions of communication, commitment and science.
The Spanish Civil War is coming to its tragic end.
The only person who shows much dynamism turns out to be an officer in General Franco’s intelligence organisation.
Pain on the other hand sometimes appears to have drifted into a nightmare by Franz Kafka.
The realistic narrative is buffeted by dreams and coincidences.
This is not for people who want a neat resolution. But it is excellent at evoking the powerlessness many feel in the face of “history”.
Some of the political ambiguity is resolved in an epilogue that shows the character’s lives after the events of the book.
And most of the characters are real people. Vallejo was a revolutionary poet who supported Republican Spain.
Monsieur Pain, Roberto Bolano, Picador £14.99