29 March 2007

Roberto Bolano (1953-2003)

Back in England, where it is Spring. In transit, I read a great piece in the New Yorker on Roberto Bolano, Chilean poet and novelist (1953-2003). He is now considered the greatest South American writer of his generation. His novel 'The Savage Detectives' (Los Detectives Salvajes)has just come out in English in USA and I ordered a copy, although one will probably come into the shop as a review copy. Comes out in April. It won the RĂ³mulo Gallego prize, the most prestigious in Latin America. It has detective story elements. There is a good piece also on him at the New York Times. He was, like myself, a big admirer of Borges but had no time for magic realism ("it stinks" he said - good to hear someone say it). He derided Marquez - 'a man terribly pleased to have hobnobbed with so many Presidents and Archbishops.'

He called Isabel Allende 'a scribbler' whose 'attempts at literature range from kitsch to the pathetic...' Allende interviewed in 2003 dismissed him as an 'extremely unpleasant' man, adding 'Death does not make you a nicer person.' Bolano is quoted as saying about himself: 'If I were to say what I really think I would be arrested or shut away in a lunatic asylum. Come on, I am sure that it would be the same for everyone.' He said that the Nobel Prize was typically won by 'jerks.' He was probably referring to Marquez again, definitely Octavio Paz, possibly Heaney (Bolano regarded himself primarily as a poet) maybe Cela. Again not something you hear often and refreshing. Literature, he wrote, 'is the product of a strange rain of blood, sweat, semen and tears...'

In Mexico City mid 1970s he was part of a bunch of Mexican post Dadaists known as infrarealistas publishing iconoclastic magazines and engaging in many provocative acts such as disrupting poetry readings by Paz and others and shouting out their own poems. Bit of a junkie, he cleaned up in his 37th year and spent the last decade of his life writing furiously as he knew his time was limited. He lived in a tourist town on Spain's Costa Brava (Blanes) got married to Carolina Lopez, a Catalonian, and had 2 children.

His final novel 2666 is over 1100 pages and although unfinished it was published after his death, it is currently being translated into English by Natasha Wimmer. A voracious reader of anything from minor poetry to dime store novels. He was also familiar with Anglo-American literature, and was fascinated by such genre writers as James Ellroy, Philip K. Dick and Cormac McCarthy. He admired the latter day Surrealist painter Remedios Varo (also Catalonian). He stole most of his books and for that must be designated by us as an utter bastard. However there are excuses - he had a bloody hard life behind him including nearly being disappeared by the death squads of Augusto Pinochet....Wouldn't mind finding some of the Mexican mags. Lastly he wrote something called Porta Consigli di un discepolo di (Jim )Morrison a un fanatico di Joyce.What's that all about? Check out the New Yorker piece.

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