September 26, 2007

Still More on Bolaño

I read "Amulet" by Roberto Bolano over the summer in the US New Directions edition because no one has chosen to publish it in the UK yet. There's something interesting about this fact.

"Amulet" is a first person narrative told by Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguayan living in Mexico City and the self-proclaimed "Mother of Mexican Poetry". The key event in the book is the occupation by Mexican troops of the university in 1968. Auxilio is on the loo at the time (reading poetry) and is missed in the troops' round up. She stays in the toilet without food for the 12 days of the occupation and becomes legendary because of it. The rest of the book mashes together the memories of her life after that date with the hallucinations she has as she lies on the bathroom floor. In doing so, one becomes the other and she sees a version of her future (which has since become her past) as she lies there. Through this device, time in the book collapses in on itself in such a way that her final vision (the youth of Latin America marching into a pit singing a beautiful "ghost-song") becomes (I'd guess the idea is) eternal - or, strictly speaking, timeless. (If there's a difference?)

There's obviously something about Bolano which makes UK publishers nervous, so we are gradually edging towards his more esoteric (by which I mean his less straightforwardly realist) works. We started with "By Night In Chile" and "Distant Star," proceeded to the short stories of "Last Evenings On Earth" and now "The Savage Detectives" has just been released (which, admittedly, I haven't read yet). They are all excellent books, but so far the second half of "Amulet" is the most remarkable thing I've read by the man. I hope this side of his writing doesn't get lost in an attempt to present him as a less spiky, odd, difficult and beautiful writer than he actually is.

(On the other hand, is this just standard paranoid 'underground' - or in my case, wannabe-underground - thinking? Perhaps there's a perfectly good reason involving rights or the difficulty of selling what is a very short novel? Perhaps the editor in question thinks "Amulet" is so important that he/she wants to lay the groundwork for it in the UK? And is the reason I think I prefer it actually influenced by the fact that it's relatively unavailable over here? All I can offer in my defence is that it isn't because of the cover - which is absolutely horrible).

September 18, 2007

Viva Vulgarity!

Fiddling around with the idea that sections of "Against The Day" are built out of a series of pastiches of specific works of Victorian/Edwardian science fiction (the Vormance Expedition episode built from the opening of M.P.Shiel's "The Purple Cloud", the time machine sections paying open homage to H.G.Wells, the sand-ships something straight from Verne) I thought I'd better see if anyone on the net had already suggested this. Which, of course, they had. But in the process I found Michael Moorcock's review of the book, which was not only immensely entertaining but also contended that, talking in general, "the novel [will] not die if it [can] rediscover vulgarity". I'm no fan of polite books, or books that are sophisticated for the sake of sophistication, or novels that only deal with the common failings of "uncommon" (i.e. middle class intellectual) men. So I was rather taken with this manifesto. It's worth remembering that "Ulysses" was condemned as "base, vulgar, vicious and depraved" and that both "Slaughterhouse Five"and "The Grapes of Wrath" (along with many others) have at various times been cited, burned and banned in American states for their "vulgar" language. A little like complaining that the music is "too loud" when it's just too unfamiliar, I wonder if the accusation of vulgarity in literature is applied whenever a book has the power to shake its reader. Which may be a different point to the one Moorcock was making, but adds up to the conclusion that wherever you see the word "vulgar" being bandied around, there's probably something worth reading.