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).

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