Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 13, 2015

The Story of My Teeth, by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney

The Story of My TeethThe Story of My Teeth is a most unusual book.  It’s very clever and very witty – but… I can’t say that I really enjoyed reading it.

Valeria Luiselli is a rising star in Mexican literary circles and this novella is published by Granta.  The blurbs praise her intellect and her mastery of prose.  The book itself is a postmodern pastiche of styles which come together to explore the value of the things we buy and the way that celebrity attaches itself to consumer goods to inflate the price.  All you need is a good story, and the narrator of this book, auctioneer Gustavo Sanchez Sanchez, tells stories of increasing absurdity to achieve ridiculous prices for the goods he auctions…

Which happen to be teeth.  Sanchez himself has bought Marilyn Monroe’s teeth to replace his own, and thus he auctions his teeth with stories about them having belonged to everyone from Plato to Enrique Vila-Matas.  Yes, it is meant to be absurd, and yes you are meant to get the connections with the literary borrowings from Proust and Shakespeare et al.

It’s less than 200 pages altogether and some of that is B&W photos of scenes from the novel and a timeline at the back.  It’s littered with quotations and quasi-quotations but it’s not actually difficult to read though the shift from the mostly light-hearted and optimistic first person narration to the darker, perhaps posthumous concluding chapter is a bit of a jolt.  Its quirkiness reminded me of the style of Cesar Aira’s Varamo.  Mybe I just wasn’t in the mood – but I didn’t find it amusing.  Or especially illuminating…

I see from GoodReads that it polarises opinion.

Best if you check out reviews from elsewhere… see this one at The National and this one from Claire at Word by Word – it illuminates the author’s preoccupations in an earlier book of essays …

Author: Valeria Luiselli
Title: The Story of My Teeth
Translated by Christina MacSweeney
Publisher: Granta 2015
ISBN: 9781783780815
Review copy courtesy of Allen and Unwin Australia.


Responses

  1. Thanks for the review. I had this on a list to read (not available here yet) but now I think I’ll pass.

  2. It’s sometimes a thin line between being clever and contrived.

  3. My father always used to say, “It’s good, but I don’t like it.” That line seems to apply to many novels.

  4. What an odd little book. The cover would draw me in as it is so quirky. I think I will read my pile of books here first before running after this one though. ☺

  5. I read her little book of essays ‘Sideways’ which was interesting and quite eclectic. I’m not sure if it’s rising literary talent or just something a little different. :)

  6. I think it might be one of those books that appeals when you’re in the mood and just makes you feel flat when you’re not. It’s not the book, it’s the reader…

  7. Thanks for this review, Lisa. I have a copy of this book sent to me by Granta and it sounded intriguing although I wasn’t sure if I would like it. You’ve certainly piqued my interest in the sense “will I like this novel more than Lisa?” 😉

    • I wanted to like it. I’m still not certain that I wouldn’t like it on a different day. After all, I usually like Granta’s books a lot!

  8. Too bad you didn’t like it that much. I think it is definitely the kind of book where one’s mood has an effect. Some days the absurd is easier to go with than others :)

    • Yes indeed. And sometimes it’s the only way to deal with something weird or horrible!

  9. […] See my ANZ LitLovers review […]

  10. I just finished reading this book, and like you wasn’t over impressed. It did raise a smile every now and then. And, sometimes when I thought the story was going to improve it went flat again.

    • It’s definitely an odd one, I think. Maybe it’s just a style of writing that takes a bit of getting used to?

  11. […] 5. The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli (Mexican) Translated from the Spanish by  Christina MacSweeney. See my review. […]

  12. […] ANZ LitLovers review […]


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