Author(s): Horacio Castellanos Moya
An expatriate professor, Vega, returns from exile in Canada to El Salvador for his mother's funeral. A sensitive idealist and an aggrieved motor mouth, he sits at a bar with the author, Castellanos Moya, from five to seven in the evening, telling his tale and ranting against everything his country has to offer. Written in a single paragraph and alive with a fury as astringent as the wrath of Thomas Bernhard, Revulsion was first published in 1997 and earned its author death threats. Roberto Bolano called Revulsion Castellanos Moya's darkest book and perhaps his best: "A parody of certain works by Bernhard and the kind of book that makes you laugh out loud."
I was half way through a rereading of Thomas Bernhard’s The Lime Works when this book arrived, and, because the desire for new experience sometimes seems more urgent (or possibly just easier) than deeper exploration of the familiar, I read it immediately. How, though, are we guided to new experience other than by its resemblance to the familiar? Moya wrote this imitation of Bernhard both as an exercise in style (there is so much that can be learned from Bernhard (and imitation may or may not be the best way to learn it)) and as a means to express his resentment of and frustration with the clichés and limitations of Salvadorean society, culture and politics. The character Vega regales the character Moya with an endless stream of invective (which resulted in the author Moya receiving death threats and choosing to prolong his absence from San Salvador indefinitely), which, although directed outwards, towards every possible target, also reveals Vega as both repulsive and neurotic. There is no imitation without exaggeration, however, and Moya’s book lacks Bernhard’s ability to subtly move the reader’s sympathies both with and against his narrators’, to undermine the valence of every statement, and to at once induce and call into question viewpoints embedded in multi-layered narratives. It must be said, though, that Moya’s yoking of his book to Bernhard has both adulatory and parodic dimensions, and is interesting as a portrait of someone (either/both the character Vega or/and the author Moya (the entangling/disentangling of the two is problematic on another level from the simplistic popular conflation of the two that contributed to Moya’s ‘exile’)) who, through admiration, allows their personality to be subsumed by another, more dominant personality (very much a Bernhardian concept).
Horacio Castellanos Moya was born 1957 in Honduras. He has lived in San Salvador, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico (where he spent ten years as a journalist, editor, and political analyst), Spain, and Germany. In 1988 he won the National Novel Prize from Central American University for his first novel. His work has been published and translated in England, Germany, El Salvador and Costa Rica. He has published ten novels and is now living in exile as part of the City of Asylum project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lee Klein's fiction, essays, reviews, and translations have appeared in various publications. His novel The Shimmering Go-Between was published in 2014 by Atticus Books.