Michael Eaude

Chaotic City

The Seven Madmen


Serpent’s Tail 323pp £8.99 order from our bookshop

The greatness of Roberto Arlt lies in his energy, his nightmarish descriptions of the modern city that crushes the poor’s dreams and his portrayal of madness – or divided souls. The Seven Madmen, published in 1929 and the best known of his four novels, is also a prescient parable of the rise of fascism. Its first impression is of sprawl and repetition – written, as critics joked, by an eighth madman. The impression is enhanced by the disordered lives and ideas of the book’s characters.

Born in 1900, son of immigrants from eastern Europe to Argentina, Arlt was a contemporary of Borges. The latter’s vast erudition, polished gems and longevity have given him a reputation that has outshone most other Argentine writers. Arlt was self-educated and colloquial in his style, something of a rough diamond, an anti-Borges. In his day a renowned journalist and short-story writer, he died suddenly in 1942. This edition contains critical afterwords by Roberto Bolaño and Nick Caistor, who has done a fine job translating Arlt’s unorthodox syntax and colloquialisms.

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