A Brief Life

“A Brief Life” by Juan Carlos Onetti (Uruguay)


Readers struggled with this book finding it an overly hard read. They didn’t warm to any of the characters who they described as unlikeable. They thought the writing style was a bit heavy going at times, with too many passages composed of exceedingly long sentences. Some readers found the alternation of the protagonist’s different lives confusing. However, they did enjoy the descriptions, which gave them a good sense of place. They also liked the fact that the chapters were relatively short giving them some respite from the laboured language! Some readers appreciated the slow rhythm of the story, whereas others found this particular aspect of it more frustrating than anything else. Some gave up reading it before the end; others finished it simply because they were going to discuss it at Nicola’s Book Club!! Overall, the book averaged a 6.5 out of 10.


Written in 1950, “A Brief Life” is the first novel to feature Onetti’s mythical town of Santa Maria. His protagonist Brausen eavesdrops on the conversation of his neighbours, a man and woman, imagining their gestures, their expressions. Brausen lives with his wife, who has undergone major surgery after being diagnosed with breast cancer. To compensate for the physical void which stalls their caresses, Brausen imagines stories: of Santa Maria, and of a doctor named Diaz Grey. But he not only wishes to imagine himself as someone else, he also seeks release from himself and from the world he knows. He leads many lives, some real and some fantastic, in order to experience a moment of psychic weightlessness – a ‘brief life’.

Nicola’s Book Club reading list

Season 15 – “Fantasy and the Fantastic” (Feb – Jun 2012)

“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka (Czech Republic)
“Living in the Maniototo” by Janet Frame (New Zealand) *
“A Brief Life” by Juan Carlos Onetti (Uruguay)
“The Icarus Girl” by Helen Oyeyemi (Nigeria)
“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe (U.S.)

* The book club favourite

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