Mario Levrero

The Luminous Novel

‘Perhaps the luminous novel is this thing that I started writing today, just now. Maybe these sheets of paper are a warm-up exercise. […] But it’s quite possible that if I go on writing – as I usually do – with no plan, although this time I know very well what I want to say, things will start to take shape, to come together. I can feel the familiar taste of a literary adventure in my throat.

I’ll take that as confirmation, then, and start describing what I think was the beginning of my spiritual awakening – though nobody should expect religious sermons at this point; they’ll come later. It all began with some ruminations prompted by a dog.’

A writer attempts to complete the novel for which he has been awarded a big fat Guggenheim grant, though for a long time he succeeds mainly in procrastinating – getting an electrician to rewire his living room so he can reposition his computer, buying an armchair, or rather, two: ‘In one, you can’t possibly read: it’s uncomfortable and your back ends up crooked and sore. In the other, you can’t possibly relax: the hard backrest means you have to sit up straight and pay attention, which makes it ideal if you want to read.’

Insomniacs, romantics and anyone who’s ever written (or failed to write) will fall in love with this compelling masterpiece told by a true original, with all his infuriating faults, charming wit and intriguing musings.

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More Info

  • Read Levrero translator Annie McDermott’s piece on our Ampersand blog about her trip to Uruguay, where she learned more about Mario Levrero’s lasting impact, including a school of writing and socks.
  • Read Adam Thirlwell’s LRB piece on Empty Words, the first novel by Mario Levrero to appear in English translation.
  • Read more on Juan Pablo Villalobos’s thoughts on Levrero, here.
Print status: Available
Translator: Annie McDermott
Original language: Spanish
Format: B-format paperback
Publication date: 3 August 2021
ISBN: 9781913505011
Ebook ISBN: 9781913505028
Availability: World English
Number of pages: 544


Sam Jordison
The Guardian

‘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 . . . The Luminous Novel was originally published in Spanish in 2005, a year after the author’s death. This 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.’


‘A novel about being in tune with the details of life that are most freaky-deaky, most humdrum, most comical, and most enraging. [...] This is a lengthy book with no plot, and I read the whole thing despite how it conflicted with my economic interests (see intro [re reading slowly]). That’s the endorsement, and I’m sticking to it.’  

Times Literary Supplement

‘It compels our 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 . . . an improbably enthralling reading experience.’

Adam Thirlwell
New York Times Book Review

‘The diary may be a museum of unfinished stories, but a story, The Luminous Novel 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.’  

Ángel Gurria-Quintana
Financial Times Books of the Year

‘An affecting and hilariously digressive account of the anxieties of the creative process.’

Dustin Illingworth
New Left Review

‘A novel upon which cults are founded.’  

Michael Orthofer
The Complete Review

‘There's no getting around that this is a rather long novel in which relatively little happens; this is not necessarily trying for the reader—even at it's most everyday-mundane, the diary, for example, is a quite amusing read—but this is a novel which certainly does take its good time. [...] An expansive chronicle of what is ostensibly a failure—the inability to write what the author conceives of as a ‘luminous novel’—, The Luminous Novel succeeds. There is a lot to this work.’

Foreword Reviews

‘The contradictions between how he experiences his life and how he lives it become evident, as does his obliviousness to the gap in his perception, even when it stares him in the face. Because of this fractured perspective, his story becomes universal . . . The Luminous Novel is a postmodern novel about the contradictions of everyday life, in which an author’s struggle reveals that life is what happens when we are busy doing other things.’

Publishers Weekly

‘This is literature in the same way that John Cage’s 4’33” is music.’

Kirkus, starred review

A masterwork ... Levrero’s big problem, consuming him throughout the book, is that he’s won a Guggenheim fellowship to write a novel that is overly ambitious to the point of being impossible. ... Levrero delights in not meeting his obligation to Guggenheim ... Fans of Perec, Coover, and other experimentalists will enjoy Levrero’s epic struggle not to write this book.

The Millions, 'Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2021 Preview'

‘This is the latest posthumously translated novel from the Uruguayan Levrero, whose Montevideo apartment was, to quote his translator McDermott, “the centre of a small universe…his legendary literary workshops, which followed an ‘unmethodical method’ designed to put people in touch with their imagination, produced hundreds of students who consider themselves his disciples.” Here, a novelist receives a generous grant that produces an insuperable writer’s block. As with Empty Words, in which the protagonist attempts ‘graphological self-therapy’ (handwriting exercises) to better himself, this is a digressive, Sternean tale in which interruption becomes a kind of illumination.’

Benjamin Myers

‘From domestic distractions to doubt and crippling insomnia, never has a book about the repetitious banality of the process of writing a novel – or, in fact avoiding writing a novel – been so compelling and accurately rendered. Mario Levrero turns the act of procrastination into a supreme art form.’

Álvaro Enrigue

‘We are all his children.’

Juan Pablo Villalobos

‘Levrero is an author who challenges the canonical idea of Latin American literature. If you really want to complete the puzzle of our tradition, you must read him.’

Lily Meyer

‘The Luminous Novel could qualify as a new instalment in the literature of boredom, except that it's too charmingly, haplessly funny to be boring.’

Alejandro Zambra

‘The Luminous Novel is Levrero's greatest work, which he wrote by forcing himself to write it, knowing beforehand that what he wanted to write was impossible. That’s why, instead of the novel, he narrates the distractions that sidetrack him from the novel. It’s not so surprising that the happiest moment in The Luminous Novel is when Mario Levrero manages, finally, to fix Word 2000. Surely, fixing Word 2000 is easier than writing that unfathomable novel that Levrero writes but doesn’t write. But to write the luminous novel it is necessary to pass through the dark novel; to make true literature it is crucial to turn to, as he says, fraudulent literature. Novel without a novel; literature without literature.’

Praise for Empty Words

'Empty Words looks like a novel about handwriting, but really it’s a book about the self. It shows the fragile, magical work that can be done by the novel as a form, the networks of meaning that are activated whenever fragments are collected in a collage. Empty Words triumphs in a way that represents the ultimate and total defeat of its narrator. It becomes literature.' Adam Thirlwell, London Review of Books


‘I half-wondered if Empty Words was his shot at Thomas Bernhard; in particular, the Austrian’s 1982 novel Concrete, about another sickly procrastinator blaming all and sundry for his inability to finish a book, although Levrero – at least on this evidence – feels the sunnier writer, relishing the mundane comedy of household dynamics as much as more cosmic jokes of existence. [...] As a calling card for Levrero’s talent, it’s certainly enticing.’ Anthony Cummins, The Guardian


Levrero became a cult figure in his native Uruguay, and after reading this book it’s easy to see why.’  David Hebblethwaite, Splice Magazine


‘An eccentric, funny, and original novel: philosophical but playful, short but obsessive, ironic but desperate, and theoretical but intimate.’ Dana Spiotta