Originally published in Uruguay in 1996, this first English translation takes the form of a series of handwriting exercises by a writer who believes the activity will improve his personality. As he seeks to write about "nothing" and focus on his penmanship, his obsessions and anxieties emerge.
Empty Words is never boring. Levrero is too talented a writer—and McDermott too talented a translator—for that. The narrator is funny and self-deprecating, earning the reader's affection with his half-earnest efforts to quit smoking and fully earnest diatribes against his wife's cat. Reading his exercises is relaxing, like sitting at the kitchen table and chatting with a friend. As a result, the novel slides by effortlessly, so smoothly written that it's easy to miss the bits of plot peeking in ... [There's] a charming narrator, winning in his self-deprecation and humor, and so the reader increasingly roots for him ... the writer's joy in writing shines through.
... charming, hilarious and often insightful ... Levrero's prose is often poetic and slightly winking throughout; he knows that his hero is a bit ridiculous but likes him regardless. (And translator Annie McDermott has done an impeccable job adapting him.) ... Levrero...shares the tendency of Borges and Lispector to reach epiphany through roundabouts and the gleeful embrace of the strange ... Hopefully this isn't the first and last of Levrero's works to be translated.
I half-wondered if Empty Words was his shot at Thomas Bernhard; in particular, the Austrian’s 1982 novel Concrete, about another sickly procrastinator blaming all and sundry for his inability to finish a book, although Levrero—at least on this evidence—feels the sunnier writer, relishing the mundane comedy of household dynamics as much as more cosmic jokes of existence. Just as you’re wondering where it’s all going, a last-minute revelation concerning the narrator’s mother confirms a lingering suspicion that the real action in this teasing jeu d’esprit lies between the lines, not on them, as the writing itself begins to look like a form of displacement activity. As a calling card for Levrero’s talent, it’s certainly enticing.