Comemadre by Roque Larraquy; translated by Heather Cleary

Runestone, Volume 5

Comemadre by Roque Larraquy; translated by Heather Cleary

Runestone, Volume 5



by Roque Larraquy; translated by Heather Cleary

Coffee House Press

July 10, 2018


152 pages

Reviewed by Conner Dolezal

is a bizarre little novel that deals with such diverse themes as body image, the pursuit of knowledge, masculinity, and the nature of art. This statement is not intended to be critical; the work’s oddities and unclassifiability give it immense staying power.

The novel is divided into two sections. The first (and notably longer) section is comprised of the journal of Quintana, an early 20th century doctor with—to put it mildly—questionable ethics, while the second is a modern performance artist’s response to a doctoral thesis written about his own work. The only initially apparent connection between these two narratives is that they both occur in Buenos Aires. Eventually, they are linked more clearly through the fictional titular plant but the thematic connections remain mysterious enough to leave a lasting impact. One is the story of the destruction of others in the name of science while the other is the story of the destruction of oneself in the name of art, and the pairing of the two seems to ask which endeavor is more important while also equating them—or at least, that’s one interpretation. Part of the beauty of the novel is that every critic seems to think it’s ‘about’ something different than the last one, including the pursuit of immortality, the relationship of the body to science and art, and the monstrosity of ambition.

The novel is complicated further by the fact that neither narrator is trustworthy. Quintana is obsessive, and not just with his “academic” pursuits. He pines after the head nurse of the sanatorium for dubious reasons involving her lack of errors and the way she puts out her cigarettes with a dab of saliva. He is fixated on pomade and men who wear too much of it. Parts of his narrative are entirely unbelievable, such as ants that march in a perfect circle.

The unnamed artist narrating the second half is perhaps more trustworthy, but only by degrees. How to feel about him is left up to the reader; do we see him as an absurd parody of modern art, or a man genuinely in pursuit of something transcendental? Larraquy allows us to see either, or even both.

Cleary’s translation is phenomenal, capturing the pitch-black humor and– in Larraquy’s words– “distanced, lightly caricatured voice”. Here is one of Quintana’s phrenology-obsessed colleagues talking about women’s bathroom habits:

Strange things are happening, Quintana. Women are locking themselves in the washroom and spending long stretches of time on the bidet. They say nothing when they come out… There’s no confusing the sound of a bidet. I’m incapable of many things my friend, especially of killing my wife. But there are those who could, you see. Who would make her confess, because this ritual of water and ceramic is a threat to all men… They shut themselves in with the bidet to think moist thoughts that suit the contours of their heads.

In addition to showing off the novel’s unique prose, this excerpt also offers a glimpse at the bizarre pseudosciences that interest Larraquy and his characters. His second novel, Informe sobre ectoplasma animal (or, A Report on Animal Ectoplasm, though it has not yet been translated to English) offers more of this, focusing on the 20th-century study of animal ghosts. If it is anything like Comemadre, an English version can’t come soon enough.

Larraquy has crafted a dark vision of the world—full of paranoia and bodily distortions and pathology—but it is also a very funny one. In Comemadre’s brief 130 pages, there’s a dizzying amount of themes, tones, and attitudes to be found, but somehow they all add up to a complete whole. 


Hamline University

Conner Dolezal is in his fourth year studying for his BFA at Hamline. His academic focus is in fiction, though he also maintains an interest in screenwriting and amateur film making.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This