By Night in Chile, Roberto Bolano, Vintage
It’s easy to see why Bolano acquired such a reputation internationally as soon as his works were translated into English. By Night in Chile is a short piece – a novella – but it is a feverish dream, a dazzling and dizzying piece of fiction that gallops along in one long paragraph, barely taking breath, taking all sorts of diversions and making all sorts of wild and imaginative commentary. The book concerns a dying Catholic priest, who is making a kind of death bed confession, or at least revelation about his life as it has intersected with the political and literary world of Chile. He is a literary figure himself and he recalls his visits to Chile’s chief literary critic, as well as his attempts to teach Marxism to General Pinochet and his team. Along the way he recalls his visits to Europe to witness priests’ use of falconry to control the pigeons polluting churches. There is Bolano’s political viewpoint, made manifest here largely in satirical fashion, but also the exuberant imagination that one sees in Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Borges and Vargas Llosa. South American fiction always seems to make English fiction look rather tame. One can see similar in European fiction by the likes of Musil, or in Thomas Pynchon, or perhaps even in Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, or in Peter Carey. But most fiction looks rather pedestrian in comparison.