Reading Resolution: “Senselessness” by Horacio Castellanos Moya

2. A book written in Central America: Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya, translated by Katherine Silver

List Progress: 7/30

Trigger warning for genocide, violence, sexual violence.

Wow, this book was a trip. I’m not even sure I can say that I liked Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya, or that I would recommend it, but reading it was certainly exciting. Usually I am skeptical of prose with a heavy style of run-on sentences; I find it heavy and cloying (to the eternal frustration of my Faulkner-loving best friend). But Castellanos Moya’s work feels like it grabs you by the wrist and pulls you through every line, tying ideas together so quickly that you have no choice but to come along for the ride. Senselessness is rich, thrilling, and tense.

It is also intensely sexual, repellently violent and obscene. This book is a lot. More than anything, I can say that it is a lot.

Senselessness is the story of an unnamed writer in an unnamed Central American country who is hired to copyedit a one thousand one hundred page report on a government massacre of indigenous populations, funded and organized by the Catholic Church. Most of the report is made up of detailed testimonies of brutal murders, tortures and rapes, which the narrator becomes entranced with. Woven into his editing job is a personal story of his own professional disgrace, sexual pursuits and deteriorating mental health. The reader has very little way to know if his concerns about being hunted down by military agents are rational, inventions of his paranoia, or a combination of the two.

The narrator’s vulnerability is one of the only things that make him likeable, as other than that he is incredibly perverse, unpleasant and self-obsessed, especially when his struggles are directly and bluntly contrasted with the tragedies in the report. He is not a good man, he is not even working on the report out of some sense of altruism, but he is driven to both good and evil deeds by the madness around and inside him. The long sentences feel like his actual stream of consciousness, a spiraling account of madness in mad times.

Senselessness is not a pleasant or cozy read by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a fascinating and thrilling one. If you have a strong stomach and are in the mood for some very stylized prose, I would give it a shot. I don’t know how it reads in the original Spanish, but this work of Castellanos Moya’s and translation by Katherine Silver is a powerful work.

Would I Recommend It: Yes, with all of the caveats mentioned above.

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