Scott Gates's Reviews > By Night in Chile

By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño
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Jan 16, 10

Read in July, 2009

I thought warmly of this book as I was reading Sebald’s Rings of Saturn (for which I wrote a tetchy review) because By Night in Chile has a similar meandering mode. But it’s also an antithesis of Sebald’s novels: It’s one of those crisp works in which every paragraph seems necessary and precisely as it should be. A beautifully ordered disorder, or some such paradox. The text is one rich torrent of thought (Word’s thesaurus function saved me from having to write “stream of consciousness”). The writing is absurdly good. It has some of the hallucinogenic effects of Amulet, like how the narrator (Father Urrutria) at times gets lost in a kind of verbal stratosphere of dead poets (always) and obliterated events.

Urrutria’s politics is a likeable super-skepticism, in which all striving parties are subsumed under hapless mediocrity:

“The right, the center, and the left, one big happy family. . . . Now we have a socialist president and life is exactly the same.”

(Made me think of Foucault’s jab at Marxism: That it did little if anything to disrupt the Western episteme, and was in fact welcome within it.)

Or, a kind of nihilism in which the value of political ideals and language is eviscerated:

“Sometimes . . . I would ask myself what difference there was between fascist and rebel. Just a pair of words. . . . And sometimes either one will do!”

Throughout is the lament of lost/corrupted worlds and words, the acknowledgment that all literature is oblivion-bound, that memory itself is a dying thing. Cool because perhaps the work and the hours that went into this novel undercuts such despair (though it ends with a crushing acknowledgement of the body’s failings).

A damn impressive book.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris I think we should make it a rule for 2010 that every book we read should be by an author that we haven't read yet. This is, in fact, possible.


Scott Gates It’s uncanny that you should bring this up, since I had already resolved to focus on writers I haven’t read yet in 2010 (as I communicated to fellow Goodreads member Brian via phone shortly before the New Year).

Here is my reading hierarchy (“new” = hasn’t been read by me, naturally):

1. New writers I’m excited about
2. New writers I’m kind of excited about
3. Writers I’ve read in the murky past that I’m still mostly unfamiliar with (George Orwell, for example)
4. New writers I’m having some trouble getting excited about
5. Writers I’m already familiar with
6. Straight-up ReReading

Because of circumstances (leftovers from 2009, and needing to prep for a couple of upcoming Shakespeare performances I’m seeing), I won’t be able to implement this until sometime in February.



message 3: by Chris (new)

Chris Do you mean new writers as in young, currently writing writers? Because I'm not as much into that as 'new writers' meaning old, dead or decrepit, musty writers whom I have not read but might look into. Like VS Naipaul? Coetzee? Wilkie Collins? Vasily Grossman? Along with some hemingway, bradbury, faulkner, virginia wolfe, bronte, truman capote, arthur koestler, other canonical old buzzards who were on the syllabus but got skipped because they seemed totally boring. I think from your list, I'm most into No. 3, and in filling out my reading resume. Like, make it a rule to only read novels from authors you have never read before, or maybe only when you were 12. I have tried to do that in the past 6 months or so, e.g. john mortimer, john wyndham, solzhenitsyn..


Scott Gates Chris, I believe I made it relatively clear above that New Writers = Writers I Haven’t Read Before, which of course includes long-dead writers. But this terminology is ambiguous, since “newness” is not really a subjective thing. I should have said I was going to focus on reading Strangers, and would only read Friends and Acquaintances when there were no Strangers I was interested in.

Revised reading hierarchy:

1. Strangers who seem interesting
2. Strangers who kind of seem interesting
3. Acquaintances/Potential Friends I’ve met before but that I still don’t know well
4. Strangers I’m having a hard time becoming interested in
5. Friends
6. Reliving Memories with Friends.



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