Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Coronation, Donoso’s first novel, was awarded the 1963 Faulkner Foundation Prize as best postwar Chilean novel. Two years later, it was published in English. This first work repeats some of the themes developed earlier in short stories, but most important, it foreshadows some of the author’s most marked obsessions. The metaphor of the boarded-up house to signify a world closing in on the character, which becomes a dominant force in El obsceno pájaro de la noche (1970; The Obscene Bird of Night, 1973), already appears in Coronation as Andrés locks himself in the old mansion when he finds that Estela loves Mario. There is in this first novel great emphasis on the contrast between the outside and the inside of the house, representing internal, repressed forces and external possibilities for liberation, respectively. This play on internal/external spaces reappears in 1980 with La misteriosa desparición de la marquesita de Loria (1980). Similarly, the use of dramatically staged scenes such as that of the coronation at the end of the novel becomes the basic structuring model for Casa de campo (1978; A House in the Country, 1984).

The novel has been praised for its portrayal of the stratification of Chilean society and for its vivid incursion into a surrealistic world of dreams and the repressed unconscious. At a first reading, Coronation falls within the context of other novels written in Chile during the 1950’s and following the trend of social realism. Donoso departs from this trend, however, by creating a self-referential work in which the characters invent their own worlds. In Coronation, Donoso writes about himself when he writes about Andrés. This complex vision finds its fullest expression in Donoso’s masterpiece, The Obscene Bird of Night.