I'd been debating whether or not to try any of Bolaño's shorter stuff (i.e. anything not Savage Detectives or 2666), and I'm glad I did. The murder myI'd been debating whether or not to try any of Bolaño's shorter stuff (i.e. anything not Savage Detectives or 2666), and I'm glad I did. The murder mystery aspect is pretty underwhelming, but as far as I'm concerned Bolaño's real gift was always describing multiple characters from ensemble points of view, if that makes sense. Like in The Savage Detectives, he spent 300 pages or so having approximately eight characters describe their interactions with Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano.
In The Skating Rink, he increases the dimension and diminishes the scope, taking three characters (as the teaser says, a 'corrupt and pompous civil servant, a beleaguered romantic poet, and a duplicitous local entrepreneur') and...uh...one thing leads to another, in typical Bolaño style. I'm sure I don't need to spell it out. If you've read and liked Bolaño, read this and you'll probably like it. If you haven't, this probably isn't an ideal starting point....more
Full of lines that were interesting in part because they were confusing, e.g. "Somebody told me that the marquesa had given Lan money too, without LanFull of lines that were interesting in part because they were confusing, e.g. "Somebody told me that the marquesa had given Lan money too, without Lan knowing where it had come from. Which didn't surprise me at all, because the marquesa was absurdly generous and understood the world, a little like those omelets she makes at her studio when the boys begin to arrive in droves, and which begins to take on the aspect of a kind of permanent omelet that you throw different things into and you go on cutting out hunks and offering them in place of what's really missing." Which is a great image, but it bothers me that I can't figure out what exactly it is that's "a little like" these omelets. I assume it's the marquesa's fruitless generosity: she offers money (in place of what's really missing) because that's what she's got. But the way it's phrased, there's some ambiguity. Is this a quirk of the translation, or deliberate?
At any rate, I didn't think any of this would come together for me until I read the story called "The Pursuer," which made it all very much worth it. Basically the story of the mental deterioration of a schizophrenic American sax player, as told from the point of view of his friend-slash-biographer, but that sells it pretty short. Here's a quote that, in contrast to many other profound lines from this book, I understood perfectly:
"That the music at least will save the rest of the night, and fulfill basically one of its worst missions, to lay down a good smokescreen in front of the mirror, to clear us off the map for a couple of hours."...more
Sort of a let down, because I was so sure it was going to be exactly my type of thing, but it wasn't, really. Still good, though. It also seems like BSort of a let down, because I was so sure it was going to be exactly my type of thing, but it wasn't, really. Still good, though. It also seems like Bolaño's works all play off of each other, so this may get better in retrospect as I read something like 2666. That's the hope, anyway....more
I got this at the same time as I got 100 Years of Solitude, but read the latter much earlier. And this, coming after the glorious, pretty-much-all-encI got this at the same time as I got 100 Years of Solitude, but read the latter much earlier. And this, coming after the glorious, pretty-much-all-encompassing story of Macondo and the Buendia family, was a major disappointment. I tend to like longer, more ambitious novels, even if they are flawed (ESPECIALLY if they're flawed, actually). And in order to like a really short one, every page has to be just about perfect. That is not the case here, unfortunately. C.o.a.D.F. is full of flat characters, inadequate descriptions, and unmemorable scenes. Compared to that of an average writer, the prose is competent, but compared to Márquez's standard, it is lackluster. And since you know from the very beginning who committed the murder implied in the title, there isn't even a plot-based motivation to continue reading. All it is, and I hate to say this, is one big why-am-I-being-told-this?...more
Even after being vaguely disappointed by The Savage Detectives, I was pretty sure that after reading this I would finally understand the whole BolañoEven after being vaguely disappointed by The Savage Detectives, I was pretty sure that after reading this I would finally understand the whole Bolaño thing. 2666 is definitely good, although phrases like "there were memorable characters" or "the plot was interesting" would be reductive and silly applied to a novel of this size and gravity. The five-part structure worked better than I expected; the first three parts get you invested enough not to give up during the repetitive fourth-part slog, and the fifth part contains 75 percent of the novel's payoff, plot-wise, which is the instant gratification you need in order to like the book without having to read it a second time (not that I won't read it a second time).
What I have a problem with, and what nobody seems to really be talking about, is Bolaño's prose. There are a few little gems throughout (the quote about the pharmacist who likes Bartleby the Scrivener more than Moby-Dick edges out Gaddis's what-is-any-artist-but-the-dregs-of-his-work line as my all-time favorite self-referential quote, and near the end there's a list of verbal gaffes in classic literature that it'd be hard for anyone not to enjoy), but, by and large, Bolaño's prose is (it seems so wrong to say this but I'm going to) boring.
In other cases I might blame this apparent phenomenon on the translation, but didn't Wimmer win an award for her translation? Maybe I just have some basic readerly incompatibility with Bolaño, or maybe I just don't like prose that can favorably be described as "sparse" or "unadorned", although is anyone really calling 2666's prose either of those things? Maybe it's just that the most memorable section for me, the police-blotter-style murders, is deliberately written in that bland style, and that part is so long that it drowns out the nicer parts. I don't know for sure, but a major part of what makes long, challenging books work for me is pleasure at the microscopic level (that's actually probably the only reason I liked Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle), and I just wasn't getting that here....more
It's one of those rare books that gets better and more engaging the more you read. Unfortunately, by necessity that means it starts out pretty bad. ThIt's one of those rare books that gets better and more engaging the more you read. Unfortunately, by necessity that means it starts out pretty bad. There are several characters introduced near the beginning, and it's hard to know where to place your allegiance, or if you should at all. One of said characters is made to seem very important, and turns out to be a red herring (worse, actually -- a transparent plot device), which can work, but doesn't in this case.
However, once you get far enough in to care about the characters, the prose regains most of the magic that 100 Years of Solitude had and that didn't seem to be present for the first part of L.i.t.T.o.C. Though I should note that there is no actual magic in the book, unlike some of Márquez's other novels....more