Archive for June, 2010


I’ve been hearing about Robert Bolano and decided to try one of his books; I chose the slimmest, By Night in Chile, which is, as the reviewers have said:  surreal, hypnotic, mesmerizing.  His prose is at times mordant, at others luxurious.  The story, a rambling death-bed confession, is hard to get at, but somehow, at the end, you feel the chill of truth – “that’s how literature is made,” states the corrupt, ruined, would-be novelist Maria Canales, whose soirees were once so well-attended, to which no one will now admit attending.  The priest/poet/literary critic, Fr. Urrutia Lacroix,  is somehow us, as the wizened youth is somehow him; we feel, at the end, complicit in the downfall of humanity’s highest hopes; we repent, yes, “like everyone else” says Maria Canales, in whose basement people died of torture, while literature was discussed in the rooms above.  There is a searing indictment here, one which hurts to examine…”I want to talk of literature,” says Maria Canales of the journalists, “but they always get on to politics.” Yeats, too, felt the pull of his white tower, while the matters of everyday life called him, forced him, to attend; while Chile fell from one calamity to the next, the erudite priest read the Greeks–he started with Homer, then moved on to Thales of Miletus, Xenophanes of Colophon, Alcmaeon of Croton, Zeno of Elea–horrors are reported; yet, he reads on, he reads Tyrtaios of Sparta and Archilochos of Paros an Solon of Athens and Hipponax of Ephesos and Stresichoros of Himnera and Sappho of Mytiilene and Anakreon of Teos and Pindar of Thebes… and who can blame him?  I cannot.  I can barely open a newspaper or listen to NPR, not to mention AM Talk radio.  I don’t know what Allende stood for, though I read “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende; I think he was a socialist and Pinochet, the military dictator,  overthrew him.  The poets seem horrified by Allende’s election, yet, Pinochet’s reign of terror is something they are involved in, even profit from; there is something horrible here…something that is ghastly and true.  Bolano died in 2003, at the age of 50.  I have another of his works in hand, The Savage Detectives, and will be writing more of Bolano anon.


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Boyd on the beach

I just finished Brazzaville Beach.  This is the third book by William Boyd that I’ve read, and I wonder why he isn’t talked of more.  He has great characters, decent plots and exotic settings; that said, this wasn’t my favorite for some reason.  Maybe there was too much that as unexplained or the way the story jumped back and forth in time – that can be too distracting. Still, I liked Hope’s character and the story of the chimpanzee study with all the various characters who are attracted to that sort of thing was excellent.  Hope is a newcomer to this long-running study of chimpanzees and discovers something contrary to what the founder of the study wants to publish.  Hope’s findings could jeopardize the credibility and funding of the project.  This part was the most suspenseful and could have been the whole book without the extended flashes backwards to Hope’s previous life in England  and forward to her  current life in limbo on Brazzaville Beach. The other Boyd’s I’ve read are “The Blue Afternoon” – which was quirky and likeable.  The other, which I really loved, was “Any Human Heart.”  In any case, I would definitely read more by him.

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