Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I've been reading this slim novel (130 pages) translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (there's several translators for Bolano's growing list of books now in English) every night for weeks now and falling asleep the other night as I neared the end of it I thought:

"I love great literature!"

Now, that's not something I would ever say, let alone think. I don't think or speak that way, not just the cliche aspects of it but the language. "Literature" is not a word I use much, if at all. I'm usually more specific or less grand. Though I'm sure I've used it here and there. But never like that.

I ascribe that to the brain surgery and its aftermath. ("Ascribe" and "aftermath" being two other words I normally would never use.)

That generic statement of enthusiasm I was making to myself as I fell asleep so contented with my evening's reading (which included pages from one or two other books as well, not as many as I used to find it necessary to read from pre-op, most of my life I read a few pages from several books before falling asleep when by myself, or with someone who didn't mind the light on or my reading after whatever else the evening's activities might include) was still true to my feelings.

As I've posted before, I've come to adore Bolano's writing, even as translated by different people. His magnum opus(es)—SAVAGE DETECTIVE, which put him on the map here, and the posthumous 2666—are what hooked me (and I know his star has risen so high it is now becoming fashionable to dismiss the attention his work is getting globally as the result of publishing hype or misinformed trend followers etc.) but the smaller earlier novels like BY NIGHT IN CHILE are just as seductively satisfying as everything I've read to date of his, including his poetry which is where he, and I, came in.

BY NIGHT IN CHILE is as much of a tour de force as the monster books that made and make his reputation despite how slight it sits in the hand (lighter than an iPad). Made up of one long stream of first person ruminative narrative in one 130 page paragraph with no pause until the last line (and the only one disappointingly translated to my mind and taste). The story of a priest looking back on a lifetime of seeming compromise and capitulation to the dark side of political power (Pinochet and what he wrought) from the perspective of someone seemingly inconsequential but nonetheless crucial to the unfolding story of the evil wrought from those sad times for Chile.

A character a reader, or at least me, would normally find despicable or at least dismissible is brought to life with such clarity it cannot be denied, the character or his tale. Another knockout.

I love great literature.


Jamie Rose said...

I love great literature too.

And love that you referenced the ipad. Very tech saavy of you.

I read a book a couple of years ago called The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Moshin Hamid, that is also a novella length monologue. Really interesting book. Especially in these post 9/11 years--gives a peek into the other side.

Lally said...

James, I'll have to check that book out. Thanks for hipping me to it. Don't I sound like the old hipster I am?

Jamie Rose said...

You are such a hipster. I use the word "cat" to refer to you. It's true. Friends laugh at me.