18 December 2009

Roberto Bolaño, By Night in Chile, 2000

My first encounter with Bolaño was a few years ago with his heroic cameo appearance in Javier Cercas’s marvellous Soldiers of Salamis, something which brought him fame in his adopted Spain, and since his passing there’s been a bit of a worldwide Bolaño-fest culminating in the posthumously released magnum opus 2666. A year ago Jonathan Lethem said “Reading Roberto Bolaño is like hearing the secret story”, and that’s exactly right. By Night in Chile is basically a dying rant from a mad Chilean priest and poetry critic, endlessly digressive and enormous intellectual fun, and as a first encounter with Bolaño’s actual books it matched the word-of-mouth and was a good place to start. I was taken not only with what Bolaño amusingly alludes to, that an obsession with poetry probably indicates a wasted life, but also with Bolaño’s style: I grew to like his long, rambling sentences that allow him to fill the page with all kinds of loosely connected thoughts into what is essentially one book-length paragraph. This must have been hard stuff to translate and yet also keep Bolaño’s nervous energy going throughout, but it’s an admirable accomplishment. Bolaño has been a very satisfying discovery, and at his best is someone who has can open one’s eyes to what literature can be in a way that few authors can do.  PY


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