Analysis of José Donoso’s Novels

Each of José Donoso’s  (5 October 1924 – 7 December 1996) novels had its special success, and the writer’s prestige grew with each stage of his career. Despite a slow beginning (he came to the novel at age thirty three), Donoso published no novel that could be classed a failure by critics or the public, and several of his works have received awards, the most acclaimed being The Obscene Bird of Night (a favorite of reviewers and literary critics) and A House in the Country, which received the Spanish Critics’ Prize, a coveted award despite its lack of endowment, since it reflects the esteem of the country’s professional critics as a whole. Donoso was the recipient of two grants from the Guggenheim Foundation for the furthering of works in progress and served as writer-in-residence at various American universities, with stints at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop (1965-1967) and teaching positions at Princeton University and Dartmouth College. In demand as a distinguished lecturer, he also held a number of editorial posts. His powers of socio-psychological penetration and his marvelous irony and skillful use of allegory, together with his masterful handling of existential themes and the abnormal or psychotic narrative perspective, place Donoso in the forefront of international fiction.


José Donoso’s first two novels are similar in a number of ways, which makes it convenient to consider them together, despite significant and perhaps fundamental differences in the level of style and technique. Both involve upper-class, traditional Chilean families, a decaying mansion, and the problem of the generation gap; both treat psychological abnormalities in a rigidly stratified society where a rich, decadent minority is contrasted with an impoverished lower class; and in both, members of the aristocracy become emotionally involved with members of the lower class. In This Sunday, however, there is a more adroit utilization of innovative techniques and more subtle thematic development, a contrapuntal effect and stream-of-consciousness narration rather than the omniscient narrator of Coronation, who summarizes events and describes places and people in photographic fashion, sharpening the narrative perspective and involving the reader’s collaborative effort, using secondary characters as third-person reflectors.

José Donoso/Pinterest

Time in Coronation is treated in a linear, chronological manner, but in This Sunday it is subjected to a more fluid handling, reflecting the philosophical and literary theories of Henri Bergson and Marcel Proust while intensifying the latent Freudian and existential concepts of the first effort, with the result that the aesthetic and intellectual density of This Sunday is considerably greater. Coronation Misiá Elisa Grey de Abalos in Coronation is a wealthy, demented nonagenarian who lives with her fiftyish bachelor grandson, Andrés, an asexual aesthete whose life is a prime example of abulia and existential inauthenticity, a man addicted to French history and collecting canes (possibly symbolic of his not standing on his own in life). Andrés’s world, like that of his grandmother, is hermetic, monotonous, isolated from the “real” workaday world; virtually his only human contact is his lifelong friend, Dr. Carlos Gros. The two aging servants, Rosario and Lourdes, have devoted their lives to the service of the Abalos family but become unable to cope with and care for the bedridden Misiá Elisa; Estela, a sensual country wench, is brought in to care for her, introducing a new element into the previously closed system. Estela is something of a catalyst, awakening Andrés’s dormant sexuality and introducing the neighboring shantytown’s societal dregs into the mansion (and the novel) via her affair with Mario (whose older half brother, René, is a link with the criminal element).

Coronation is traditional in its technique and employs an almost naturalistic cause-and-effect sequence, portraying most of the characters as products of their environment, although Donoso’s interest in psychological analysis transcends the usual naturalistic characterization. Social determinism underlies the formation both of Andrés, who studied law in his youth because it was the thing for young men of his class to do, and of Misiá Elisa, who is pathologically repressed, molded by the religious education and bourgeois puritanism of her family. A similar social determinism is responsible for Mario’s fear of entrapment (partly cultural, partly based on his brother’s unhappy marriage); Estela’s pregnancy thus inspires in Mario panic and instinctive flight.

Following Freudian psychology, Donoso stresses the importance of early-childhood experiences, the power of the unconscious, and the central role of sexuality in other areas of human life, with much of the characters’ conduct being irrational, neurotic, or motivated by repressed erotic urges. In her senile dementia, Misiá Elisa becomes overpoweringly obsessed with sexuality, which she suppressed during most of her life, and gives way to obscene outbursts. Obsessions are a recurring motif in Coronation and in Donoso’s fiction as a whole, and often are associated with recurring symbols, false rituals, repetitive or symbolic dreams, existential themes, and rigid daily routines that acquire an unconscious, magical, or supernatural character for the participants. Any break in the routine, therefore, is a transcendent disruption of order—hence the ultimately catastrophic ramifications of bringing Estela, the new servant, into the rigid and ritualistic existence of the mansion.

Misiá Elisa’s conversations with Estela include warnings of the dangers of seduction and reveal that she considers all men “pigs” while considering herself a saint (having never let her husband see her naked). Life for the old lady is a gutter, a sewer, a cesspool from which religion is the only escape; thus she is also obsessed with sin, although for her, sexuality and sin are essentially identical. His grandmother’s stern warnings and prohibitions and the inculcation of childhood fears and exaggerated taboos fill the boy Andrés with dread and apprehension, leading ultimately to his falsifying his first confession and, disappointed that instant fire and brimstone is not the result, to a loss of faith and rejection of religion, without any accompanying loss of inhibitions.

Plagued by a recurring nightmare in which a long bridge over an abyss suddenly ends, precipitating him into the void, Andrés experiences extreme existential anguish as he comes to realize the inability of philosophy or science to replace the security promised by faith and to assuage the fear of death, of the infinite, and of nothingness. Existentially, he is also radically alone, his solitude and loneliness so extreme that his abulia and inability to act are the visible result of the isolation and meaninglessness of his life. More than two decades spent in idle alienation, avoiding any engagement with life, end abruptly for Andrés when the terror inspired by his grandmother’s approaching death is combined with the disturbing attraction of Estela’s presence, bringing the realization that he has never really lived (in contrast with his friend, Carlos Gros, who represents an acceptance of life and love, believes both in science and religion, and exemplifies an existential exercise of free will). Where Misiá Elisa sees life as a sewer, Andrés sees it as chaos, terror, absurdity, a mad trick played upon humankind by an unjust or insane god. Both grandmother and grandson thus exemplify alienation so extreme that it borders upon the psychotic, their fragile equilibrium maintained by a series of obsessive routines and rituals—as in the case of Andrés limiting his cane collection to ten.

Donoso employs an indirect, third-person narration or monologue (comparable to the procedure of James) to plumb the psychological depths of his characters and thereby provide a multiplicity of perspectives, augment dramatic intensity, and allow the reader to identify more directly with a given character’s viewpoint. The novel raises serious psychological, social, and philosophical issues, often through Andrés’s very avoidance of them (an ironic technique that requires the reader to face the conclusions that Andrés has refused to contemplate), but Donoso also employs humor and numerous aesthetic ingredients. Incongruity is essential to many moments of humor, with the best examples involving Misiá Elisa, who, in her madness, swings like a pendulum from prudishness to obscenities to exaggerated religiosity. Similarly, the ironic contrast between Andrés’s adolescent ignorance (in flashbacks to his childhood and youth) and the mature knowledge of narrator and reader provides much black comedy; for example, the young Andrés imagined that there was some connection between hell and the school restroom because the latter was a filthy place, and it was there that he first overheard a conversation about sex.

One of the recurring symbols or images of Donoso’s fiction is the decaying mansion, often a Victorian monstrosity replete with gables and turrets, balconies whose only function is decorative, passages leading nowhere, closed or walled-up rooms, and other elements representative of a decadent or outmoded lifestyle. The mansion in Coronation, similarly constructed, also exemplifies Donoso’s fascination with Art Nouveau—with its opulence of detail, decorative floral borders, and curving lines—while the depictions of the grandmother, her “coronation” and death (amid rococo bows, streamers, and billowing folds of cloth), function to complement and emphasize the theme of conspicuous consumption. The decadent mansion is a transparent allegory of a decadent upper class, while on an individual, psychological level, it also frequently symbolizes existential or emotional emptiness, isolation or alienation, and lack of contact with reality. Another important symbol in Coronation is Andrés’s collection of canes, rigidly limited to ten to exteriorize or make visible the rigid, self-imposed limits on his sterile, monotonous, routine existence. When the existential crisis provoked by confrontation with two of life’s most powerful forces—love and death, both of which he has previously avoided—obliges Andrés to take radical measures, the one step he is able to visualize is raising the limit on his cane collection. He visits the home of an antique dealer whose wife—with her pink shawl and naked palms, evoking a powerful subconscious association with Estela—profoundly disturbs him; thus brought to an awareness of his desire for Estela, he resolves to win her, a decision that, if carried out, would constitute his first step toward existential engagement and authenticity. As he returns home, however, an accidental glimpse of the girl with her lover beneath a streetlight mortifies him and brings realization of his own absurdity and that of his situation; unable to return to his once-comfortable abulia and solitude, he gradually retreats into madness (a denouement that, in naturalistic terms, might be implicit in his heredity), succumbing to the pernicious influence of his grandmother, whose pervasive madness has gradually undermined his own rationality.

Similarly, Mario’s fear of becoming a criminal, arising from his brother’s criminal nature, the family’s increasingly desperate financial straits, and the injustices of society, presages his fall into crime: He is induced to participate in the theft of the Abalos family silver, thereby setting the stage for the grotesque denouement that combines the frustrated robbery attempt, Andrés’s madness, and Misiá Elisa’s death.

This Sunday

The themes of alienation and existential anguish reappear in This Sunday, but Donoso’s interest in abnormal psychology and the exploration of the unconscious of each of his protagonists are much more visible than in the earlier novel. Don Alvaro Vives and his wife, Chepa, a wealthy, middle-aged couple, live in another of Donoso’s mansions, where they are visited by their five grandchildren (one of whom narrates portions of the novel). Other characters include Violeta, a retired former servant of the Vives household and onetime mistress of Alvaro; Maya, a lower-class psychopath who has been convicted of murder; Marujita, a peddler; Mirella, Violeta’s illegitimate daughter; and her husband, Fausto.

In brief, the plot revolves around the activities of Chepa, a volunteer welfare worker, and her infatuation with Maya and use of the family’s influence to obtain his parole. Settled by Chepa in Violeta’s house, Maya is both attracted to his benefactor and fearful of her, and his pathology determines a path of escape through violence once again—this time through the murder of Violeta, which allows him to return to the comfortable alienation of prison, where no existential decisions are required. Rather than a straightforward narrative, This Sunday employs an ironic alternation between the naïve or limited vision of characters—first-person narrators who are participants in the action—and the occasional interventions of an omniscient narrator, thereby stressing the characters’ ingenuousness, self-deception, or unawareness.

Much of the narrative is retrospective, via the use of Proustian flashbacks (for example, Alvaro’s recollections of the beginning of his affair with Violeta are stimulated by the smell of meat pastries, experienced years previously when he had gone to her house). Free association and indirect third-person, stream-of-consciousness narrative are combined in reconstructing Alvaro’s life as a weak young man whose social position enabled him to exploit Violeta without assuming responsibilities, avoiding the threats represented by both university girls and prostitutes while preventing the servant girl from living an authentic existence of her own. A victim of the social conventions by which “decent” girls of his own class were sacred, meant only for marriage, Alvaro is unable to truly love Chepa and other upper-class girls, although on the basis of established mores, he assumes that he will love her; actually, he manages to consummate the marriage only by closing his eyes and imagining that he is making love to Violeta.

In their fifties, Alvaro and Chepa have ceased sleeping together, and both live behind masks, maintaining a facade that serves as a substitute for authentic relationships as well as an escape from unpleasant reality. Alvaro’s inability to love having become more pronounced with time, he appears narcissistic, withdrawn, and slightly ridiculous—aspects emphasized by his grandchildren’s nicknaming him the Doll, his interminable games of chess and solitaire, his deafness, his lack of concern for things other than his health, and his rituals. Chepa, a victim of a loveless marriage that has increased her basic insecurity, provides a self-portrait in a number of interior monologues, most of them precipitated by contact with Maya. As a lonely, aging woman whose children have left home, she seeks to give some meaning to her existence by works of charity—by helping the poor and through her work at the prison—in an attempt to compensate for the knowledge that for Alvaro she is an object devoid of significance.

A good deal of sadomasochism inheres in Chepa’s relationships with “her” poor; she imagines herself as “a littered bitch” with a compulsive need to feed the hungry mouths fastened to her. Her philanthropy is a substitute for the normal human relationships that are lacking in her life as well as a mask for less admirable motivations of her own, the desire to dominate or control, and to indulge her more (or less) than maternal interest in Maya. She helps him to set up a leather-goods shop, but her vigilance arouses his resentment and desire to escape; despite his derangement, Maya intuits in Chepa the devouring female, the Jungian evil mother.

Seeking Maya at Violeta’s house, Chepa learns both that he has become Violeta’s lover and that Violeta had an affair with Alvaro before his marriage to Chepa, provoking the latter’s decision to throw off convention and look for Maya in the shantytown. Unfamiliar with the sprawling slums, she becomes lost in the twilight maze of alleys, but she fortuitously encounters Maya’s mistress, Marujita, whose revelations of Maya’s mixed emotions concerning Chepa inflame her and bring on a surrealistic, nightmarish experience as she is set upon by slum children who rob her of her furs and purse and leave her exhausted, on a trash heap. The inferno of the slums into which Chepa descends is a symbolic, expressionistic representation of her own subconscious with its hidden, conflicting sexual desires. Maya’s murder of Violeta has been seen by critics as an instance of transferring his repressed aggression for Chepa to one socially weaker; the murder frees him from his obligations to her as benefactor, and to society.

The differences between Alvaro and Chepa are not so marked as the grandchildren imagine; their inability to communicate with Alvaro leads them to see him as cold, absurd, and slightly grotesque, while the grandmother is perceived in an unrealistically positive fashion as generous and loving (perhaps a result of her own altruistic self-image), a participant in the children’s games of fantasy. Actually, both Alvaro and Chepa suffer from inauthenticity, solitude, and unfulfilled emotions, but Chepa is close to achieving authenticity when she recognizes and accepts her desire for Maya and determines to seek him, while Alvaro has lived so long in egotistic aloofness, exploiting without giving, that no self-redemption appears possible.

The novel’s title refers to the family’s habitual Sunday gatherings for dinner at the grandparents’ residence, highlighting an incident of one specific Sunday, when Chepa searches for Maya, returning from the slums so traumatized that her subsequent life is almost that of a catatonic. Maya’s murder of Violeta, who is vicariously Chepa, symbolically signals Chepa’s death, and although she lives for many years, she spends them in isolation, essentially as dead to her grandchildren as if she were deceased. The rituals in the lives of adults are paralleled by the children’s games, and additional parallels and con trasts throughout the novel lend symmetry: Alvaro’s relationship with Violeta is socially similar to that of Chepa with Maya (a superior-inferior involvement); Alvaro and Violeta are passive, inert, making no effort to change their lives, while Chepa and Maya are active, attempting to improve their situations or to change them. This Sunday explores more complicated relationships, with more tragic repercussions, than those plumbed in Coronation, and it does so in a more objective fashion, given the lessening of authorial intervention. Both novels, however, re-create the surrealistic and nightmarish effects of subconscious, irrational, or instinctive forces, achieving especially memorable portraits in the matriarchs (Misiá Elisa and Chepa), who undoubtedly hark back to the mental deterioration of Donoso’s own maternal grandmother.

Hell Has No Limits

Hell Has No Limits, which was published one year after This Sunday, provides a departure from the novelist’s previous urban settings, being set in a somber, sordid brothel in a backwater rural winegrowing area. Although the existential issues of authenticity and alienation, solitude, and a lack of communication found in the earlier novels are again present to some degree, there is an increased emphasis on absurdity and the grotesque, and Donoso begins to employ mythic elements and ambiguity, symbolically alluding to biblical myths of the Creation and the Fall in depicting the results of a failed economic experiment by a local politician, Don Alejo, who is a sort of local god, even said to resemble the Lord.

The village, Estación El Olivo, created by Don Alejo, a wealthy landowner and area boss, was touted as an earthly paradise at its inception, but some twenty years later, during the novel’s present, it has become a caricature of itself, where physical and moral stagnation make it something of a hell on earth. Don Alejo had originally owned the brothel, but as the result of a bet between himself and the madam, Big Japonesa, he signed the property over to her (the wager involved Japonesa’s managing to seduce Manuela, a gay crossdresser who imagines that he is a flamenco dancer). Japonesa won, thanks to her astuteness in manipulating Manuela’s erotic fantasy and a promise to make him her partner in the brothel, but during the incident she became pregnant and subsequently gave birth to an unattractive girl, Japonesita, who operated the brothel business following her mother’s death. Japonesita, at the age of twenty still a virgin despite her managing a house of prostitution, is a rival of her gay father in a subliminal competition for the affections of Pancho Vega, a truck driver, bully, and closeted gay man whose return precipitates the novel’s climax.

Although Don Alejo, as “creator” of Estación El Olivo, is a benign god figure, he is ambiguous by reason of being politically and morally corrupt (he also plots the destruction of the town, since he has decided to convert the whole area to vineyards). His wager, the precipitating factor that brings Manuela’s family into being, is a parodic perversion of the concept of Christian marriage, and his association with the powers of evil is symbolized by four vicious black dogs that accompany him (similar dogs appear in The Obscene Bird of Night). The ambiguity of Manuela is primarily sexual, for he desires ardently to be a woman; some similar ambiguity appears in Pancho, who is muscular and seemingly virile but in reality is cowardly and in the closet. The ambiguity of Japonesita, virgin madam of the bordello, is underlined by her lack of sexual maturity, her exaggerated thrift, and illusions that hinge on her buying a phonograph—a pathetically unrealistic hope, given the reality of her economic situation.

The catalyst in Hell Has No Limits is Pancho, who decides after a meeting with Don Alejo that he will enjoy one last spree at the brothel. He makes sexual advances toward Japonesita, but having aroused her (all the while thinking of his truck—both a Freudian sexual symbol and an instrument of suicidal escape), he sadistically rejects her for Manuela, whose dance provokes him, not so much to sexual desire as to murderous fantasies of disemboweling and leaving her lifeless.

The novel’s brutal climax resolves Manuela’s existential identity crisis (brought on by age and the depressing material situation). Leaving the brothel with Pancho and his brother-in-law, Octavio, after the flamenco performance, Manuela makes the mistake of kissing Pancho, who fears exposure of his homosexuality; this unleashes a nightmarish flight-and-pursuit sequence in which Manuela is beaten and attempts to seek refuge in the home of Don Alejo. Caught and beaten again, Manuela is sodomized by Pancho and Octavio and left nearly dead by the river. Whether this episode is fatal is also ambiguous; the novel ends on a note of pessimism as Japonesita extinguishes the brothel light and retires to the howling of Don Alejo’s dogs and the sobs of a prostitute’s child, traditional motifs of doom that combine with the blackness of night to underscore the impression of impending death and oblivion. Because of his psychological complexity, existential revolt, and commitment to ideals of art and beauty, Manuela is one of Donoso’s most memorable characters.

The Obscene Bird of Night

The Obscene Bird of Night, considered by critics an antinovel because of Donoso’s abandonment of traditional plot, character, and thematic development in favor of a more spontaneous depiction of reality and a virtuosic display of stylistic artistry, is the author’s most complex work. Filled with grotesque fantasies, characters with multiple and fluctuating identities or protean, disintegrating personalities, the novel does away with conventions of logic and of mimetic literature, discarding any portrayal of objective reality to present the dilemma of humanity before the existential void.

Humberto Peñaloza, narrator and protagonist, begins as an incipient or would-be writer whose poverty obliges him to accept the job of secretary to Don Jerónimo Azcoitía, a wealthy aristocrat and influential politician. Jerónimo’s wife, Inés, inspires Humberto’s erotic fantasies, although her witchlike old servant, Peta Ponce, intrudes upon many of them, preventing the consummation—even in his mind—of Humberto’s desire. When Jerónimo and Inés fail to have a son to carry on the family’s distinguished name, Peta Ponce supposedly arranges for Humberto to have intercourse with Inés, who conceives and gives birth to Boy, a repugnant little monster, deformed to such an extreme that Jerónimo has him reared on an isolated, distant estate that is placed under the direction of Humberto. Whether Humberto fathers Boy is highly questionable; it may be only another fantasy, as are many other incidents in the novel (the ultimate reality of Boy is also questionable).

The distant estate, La Rinconada, peopled by monsters—gathered by Jerónimo so that Boy will not believe himself abnormal—is a grotesque, absurd mirror image of the Azcoitía estate and a possible expressionist allegory of Chilean society. Years later, after surgery for an ulcer, Humberto becomes obsessed with the notion that his physician, Dr. Azula, has removed eighty percent of his organs; Humberto abandons La Rinconada to take refuge in La Casa—a former convent that has become a domicile for retired female servants—where he retreats into silence and is called Mudito (mute).

Inés, now aging and frustrated in her aspirations to maternity, fails in a mission to the Vatican in which she seeks symbolic perpetuity, via the quest for beatification of a homonymic forebear, and also takes refuge in La Casa, where she spends her time despoiling the grotesque old inmates of their few miserable belongings in a dog-racing game that she always wins. Or does she? The visionary and phantasmagoric world of the protagonist narrator is so fluctuating, so surrealistic and ambiguous, that the reader assumes the narrative consciousness to be schizophrenic or psychotic and mistrusts his representation of events. Humberto’s schizophrenic symptoms include withdrawal from reality, hallucinations, living in a world of fantasy, systems of false selves, masks or personas, fear or terror of engulfment by others or the world, a feeling of imprisonment, and the imagining of himself as an infant. Donoso’s uncanny capturing of the schizophrenic’s perceptions undoubtedly owes something to his own experience of mental illness, with transient schizophrenia and paranoia induced by his inability to tolerate the painkillers given him after his operation. It is possible—and even plausible—that most of the novel’s characters are phantoms generated by Humberto’s deteriorating mind, and that the two worlds of the Azcoitía estate and the isolation of La Rinconada respectively represent the rational world of visible reality and the dangers of the invisible world of the unconscious.

A House in the Country

Although the labyrinthine, dilapidated casa has been seen as an archetypal Jungian symbol of terror, it may also be related to Donoso’s use of the decaying mansion throughout his fiction as a symbol of Chilean society with its archaic social structures and decadence. Yet another such house, a seemingly limitless labyrinth with miles of underground passages, secret rooms, false or hollow walls, and hidden doors, appears in A House in the Country, seen by some as an allegory of Chilean politics and referring concretely to the military coup of 1973, following in the wake of other novels about Latin American dictators, such as Alejo Carpentier’s El recurso del método (1974; Reasons of State, 1976), Augusto Roa Bastos’s Yo el Supremo (1974), and Gabriel García Márquez’s El otoño del patriarca (1975; The Autumn of the Patriarch, 1975). If this is true, Donoso’s novel does not present the biography of a dictator so much as the ideological configurations of a historical event, alluding to the opponents, victims and villains, the personal concentration of power and attendant aspiration to perpetuity, physical and intellectual repression, official rhetoric, and external intervention, with the house or mansion and its surrounding outbuildings constituting a metaphor for the totalitarian state, especially for the political prison, concentration camp, or detention center.

Beyond allusions to specific concepts or historically recognizable persons, A House in the Country is significant for its portrayal of a general problem in Latin America, a vast complex transcending geographical and political boundaries and involving the unholy alliance between oligarchies and foreign interests, militarism and dictatorships, the exploitation of the lower class and the lack of freedom of speech and of the press. It is an abstract political allegory of the abuse of power based on bureaucratic structures, the novel of a family dynasty whose fortune is based on mining in a remote rural area of lush vegetation and unreal, stylized geography, with significant subthemes such as adolescent rebellion, the conflict between idealism and materialism, the generation gap, psycho-sexual repression, conformism and hypocrisy, inauthentic values and lifestyles, and radical solitude and the inability to communicate.

Set in an imaginary country whose flora and fauna appear to be drawn from all of South America, A House in the Country employs a vague chronology, as befits its mythic and ahistorical nature. As something of a dystopia with strong existentialist undercurrents, it portrays a Kafkaesque world where utopia has gone awry via the symbolic narration of a “revolution”: Children who take advantage of their elders’ absence on an extended and unexplained trip take over the estate and set up their own regime, instituting some reforms among the natives but eventually quarreling among themselves and finally being discovered and chastised after a parental display of force involving the use of troops. A House in the Country is thus no more a realistic portrayal of recognizable reality than is The Obscene Bird of Night, although powerful realities of another order are captured and conveyed with forceful impact.

Donoso’s later novels also display vanguardist tendencies, employing variants of the metanovel and self-conscious fiction, the purpose of which is to erase the boundaries between the real and fictitious worlds, with the author being simultaneously creator and novelistic character, the novel both that which the reader peruses and another work whose genesis is subject or problem of the text at hand. The problem of the relationships among author, text, and reader is a leitmotif in The Obscene Bird of Night, A House in the Country, and El jardín de al lado, where it assumes preponderant proportions. In an encounter between the novelist and one of the Ventura dynasty in A House in the Country, the character criticizes many details of the narrative, a situation elaborated in El jardín de al lado; in both works, Donoso presents his literary theories or comments upon them, burlesques the expectations of the reader of conventional novels, parodies literary convention, and repeatedly destroys the mimetic illusion in favor of an investigation into the problems of the novel as genre, thereby further separating his last five novels from those of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Without ceasing to write of Chile, he became more cosmopolitan in his choice of settings and characters; without abandoning social concerns, he incorporated broader themes and more universal literary preoccupations.

Major Works
Short fiction: Veraneo, y otros cuentos, 1955; Dos cuentos, 1956; El Charlestón, 1960 (abridged as Cuentos, 1971; Charleston, and Other Stories, 1977); Los mejores cuentos de José Donoso, 1965; Cuentos, 1971; Seis cuentos para ganar, 1985.
Plays: Sueños de mala muerte, pb. 1985; Este domingo: Versión teatral de la novela homónima, pb. 1990. poetry: Poemas de un novelista, 1981.
Nonfiction: Historia personal del “boom,” 1972 (The Boom in Spanish American Literature: A Personal History, 1977).

Callan, Richard J. Jung, Alchemy, and José Donoso’s Novel “El obsceno pájaro de la noche.” Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000.
Carbajal, Brent J. The Veracity of Disguise in Selected Works of José Donoso: Illusory Deception. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000.
Finnegan, Pamela May. The Tension of Paradox: José Donoso’s “The Obscene Bird of Night” as Spiritual Exercises. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992.
Friedman, Mary Lusky. The Self in the Narratives of José Donoso: Chile, 1924-1996. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004.
González Mandri, Flora. José Donoso’s House of Fiction: A Dramatic Construction of Time and Place. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1995.
King, Sarah E. The Magical and the Monstrous: Two Faces of the Child-Figure in the Fiction of Julio Cortázar and José Donoso. New York: Garland, 1992.
McMurray, George R. Authorizing Fictions: José Donoso’s “Casa de Campo.” London: Tamesis Books, 1992.
_______. José Donoso. Boston: Twayne, 1979.Magnarelli, Sharon. Understanding José Donoso. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

Source: Rollyson, Carl E., and Frank N. Magill. 2000. Critical survey of Long Fiction. Pasadena, Calif: Salem Press.

Categories: Literature, Novel Analysis, Psychological Novels

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