Anglophone readers now have the opportunity to read Levrero at the dazzling end of this zigzagging progress...in precisely comic and melancholic translations ... strange charm. Once you’re inside this patient record of daily existence, with all its interruptions and exhausting errands, you start to see corresponding hints of unexpected triumphs and illuminations. The diary may be a museum of unfinished stories, but a story, this book shows, doesn’t need to be finished to have its own meanings — the largest of which may be that the transcendental experience Levrero is after has been visible all along, in this diary of everyday disaster ... Yes, the diary is a novel, after all — one that leads the reader to two surprisingly optimistic conclusions. As you read The Luminous Novel, it becomes possible to believe that people can be defined by their attempts at self-sabotage, just as a novel can be defined by a record of its failure — while finding a luminous beauty in the patient presentation of its own mutilation.
It is inevitably, and deliberately, a letdown. Despite being divided into real chapters, with at least the suggestion of an overarching narrative, it is written in the same solemn and confiding first-person voice as is the Diary, and in much the same loose and rambling conversational style. It also embraces much the same semi-autobiographical subject matter, with a special emphasis on its narrator’s array of obsessions and anxieties – not least the trouble he has in settling down to his writing ... Altogether, then, it would be hard to overstate the banality of much of the material here. And yet it compels our continuing attention. More than this: as it lurches on in its awkward, clumsy way, with all the grace of a circus bear negotiating a tightrope, it grips our imagination in ways we cannot readily pin down...His delivery is stolidly earnest, but we cannot help but ironize it, any more than we can help but sense the profundity beyond, and behind, his printed words ... Levrero’s book is strenuous in the passivity of its quest ... The truly luminous novel here may be the one that got away, but The Luminous Novel takes us so much closer (we can’t help thinking) to the heart of things. In its author’s words a 'museum of unfinished stories', all provisional, never definitive, it showcases the circumstantial detail that surrounds and sustains our grander narratives, and in so doing produces an improbably enthralling reading experience. Annie McDermott copes admirably with prose whose insistent plainness cannot have given her much purchase. No realm of gold, Levrero-land holds extraordinary treasures of its own. Prosaic it may be but Latin American literature has never seemed more unfamiliar or unfathomable than it does here; not so much lo real maravilloso as the miraculous mundane.
A few completed chapters of the original novel are included towards the end of this wonderful book, but it’s the diary and its strange blend of fancy, fiction and daily reality that forms the bulk of its 500-plus pages. The entries... [are] translated into delightfully clear and readable English by Annie McDermott ... 'Writing every day about events that have just taken place is a mistake,' he informs us, a mere 300 pages in. By this point, it’s impossible to agree. With witty and thoughtful argumentation accompanying every such statement in the book, this is procrastination as high art. Levrero makes the quotidian seem extraordinary. You may not think you’re interested in the purchase of a new armchair, but it’s described here with such surprising humour and drama that its significance begins to feel cosmic ... knowledge of mortality makes his continual terror that time is slipping through his fingers yet more poignant. Every wasted moment in this book feels precious.