Mike Puma's Reviews > The Insufferable Gaucho

The Insufferable Gaucho by Roberto Bolaño
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Oct 05, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: bolaño, new-directions-publishing, 2011, chilean-author, lit-fic

The Insufferable Gaucho is a mix of fiction (five short stories) and two essays which revisit themes, implicitly and explicitly, from Bolaño’s most ambitious novels, 2666 and The Savage Detectives

The Short Stories:
Jim—on the surface, a very short story about a troubled Vietnam veteran living the life of a poet in Mexico. Its brevity speaks to the question: What can we know about other people—their demons? The story will almost necessarily remind readers of The Savage Detectives and the character of Jim could easily have been developed for inclusion in that title or excised from it.

The Insufferable Gaucho—a retired lawyer/judge, Manuel Pereda, leaves the economic collapse of Buenos Aires for a simpler life at his remote ranch on the pampas—a pampas filled with an abundance of vicious rabbits—and considers his place in the world. In a remarkable passage describing Manuel’s ride with a psychiatrist friend of his son, Bolaño describes their encounter with a destitute family: “The children kept their eyes fixed on the psychiatrist, who adopted a maternal attitude, though not for long, since she soon noticed, as she later explained to Pereda, a malevolent intention in their gaze, a mischievous plan formulated, so she felt, in a language full of consonants, yelps, and grudges.” An effective use of hendiatris.

On police work vs. the work of a judge, the narrator tells us, [Bolaño does not use quotation marks; here Pereda is speaking] “Police work’s about order, he said, while judges defend justice.” This segues nicely with the next story:

Police Rat—Pepe the Cop, who patrols the depths of a cavernous underworld of sewers and tunnels, man-made and rat-made (he too is a rat), is discouraged by others when he begins investigating the murders of fellow rats, discouraged because that investigation disrupts the order of the community—Pepe seeks justice. Readers of 2666 will almost necessarily re-examine the motives of the police in the Part about the Crimes.

Alvaro Rousselot’s Journey—Alvaro Rousselot, an Argentinian writer, travels to France in search of the French director who’s been filming his books without giving the author credit or royalties and makes an amazing discovery about himself.

Two Catholic Tales—I. The Vocation—a young, unnamed narrator considers the priesthood, the martyrdom of St. Vincent, and his own martyrdom, while discussing films with a friend and waiting for his calling. II. Chance—a lunatic considers his youth, is encouraged to escape the asylum by a fellow inmate, and makes his unfortunate way through the city. The stories work together, a literary diptych. Stunning.

The Essays:
Literature + Illness = Illness—a rambling essay which wends its way through considerations of his own illness and fucking, Mallarmé’s "Brise Marine" and Baudelaire’s “The Voyage,” illness and travel, the epigraph to 2666 [the line from Baudelaire’s poem: “Oases of fear in the wasteland of ennui” (the American version of 2666 use the translation: Oases of horror in the desert of boredom)], illness and art, and art and the now.

The Myths of Cthulhu—another wandering essay which reads like a section of Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview & Other Conversations with all signs of the interviewer suppressed: a discussion of writers, writing, the state of Latin American literature, and his interesting takes on some of the best known Latin American literary giants (Paz, Garcia Marquez, Cortazar, Vargas LLosa, et al.

It’s really the inclusion of the final two essays which pushed my rating of this title from four stars to five; his essays are told with the same voice as his novels, with dark humor, passion and heart.
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Reading Progress

October 5, 2010 – Shelved
December 7, 2010 – Shelved as: bolaño
December 29, 2010 – Started Reading
January 2, 2011 –
page 41
January 4, 2011 –
page 77
January 6, 2011 – Finished Reading
January 20, 2011 – Shelved as: new-directions-publishing
February 13, 2011 – Shelved as: 2011
July 7, 2011 – Shelved as: chilean-author
July 7, 2011 – Shelved as: lit-fic

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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Mike Puma Caris wrote: "An abundance of vicious rabbits? This sounds crazier'n shit!"

I wondered about this, at first. Will this be one of those of those Crabs books or Eel stories, but they barely rise to the level of menace (they only attack once but go right for the jugular), otherwise they remain what they are--rodents that watch, eat, reproduce, yield themselves up for consumption, and remain quiet--you know, much like human citizenry.

Mike Puma Caris wrote: "Is it wrong that I'm disappointed?"

You, sir, are never wrong.

message 3: by Abailart (new) - added it

Abailart A new author for me. Will definitely have him near top of list of books to read having read this review and the quotes you have put up. Seems like a writer who finds philosophy in the flesh!

Mike Puma Abailart wrote: "A new author for me. Will definitely have him near top of list of books to read having read this review and the quotes you have put up. Seems like a writer who finds philosophy in the flesh!"

Thanks. As much as I'd like to suggest 'going for the gusto' and then recommending The Savage Detectives or 2666 first, the more prudent part of me thinks By Night in Chile might be a better way to approach this author (if only for the extent of the committment one must make with 2666, and to a lesser degree with The Savage Detetctives--where I started). That advice sounds condescending, and to the degree that it does I'll apologize to any reader; it's premised ONLY on the size of those novels and their peculiarties of form.

message 5: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca There now. To be consistent with your preferences, I'm not liking your review. And to be consistent with my own, I'm recording here 'nice review'. No idea about the book, still not sure if I want to read it. But thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Mike Puma G N wrote: "There now. To be consistent with your preferences, I'm not liking your review. And to be consistent with my own, I'm recording here 'nice review'. No idea about the book, still not sure if I wan..."

Um, if you reread my response in the group, you'll see I find it easiest to Like reviews when I haven't read the book but like (for whatever reason) the review itself; where I'm reluctant to Like a review is when I have read the book and disagree with a reviewer's conclusions, regardless of how well-written, clever, etc. it might be. No probs, though, I read, write, comment, and move on. Thanks for the nod of approval.

message 7: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca In the interests of consistency I've amended both lapses.

message 8: by Praj (new)

Praj Nice review!

Mike Puma Praj wrote: "Nice review!"

Thanks. Well worth reading for the Bolaño fans.

message 10: by Abailart (new) - added it

Abailart Thanks, Mike. Have ordered By Night in Chile.

message 11: by Praj (last edited Jan 08, 2011 09:46AM) (new)

Praj Thanks.Got this one on my Bolaño list now.

message 12: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Puma Hope neither of you are disappointed. Consider it a sort of pave-the-way book (if you haven't read anything else by him). If that works, I'd suggest Savage Detectives; I recommend 2666 cautiously, very cautiously.

message 13: by Joe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joe Nava Just finished this today. The essay alone, Literature + Illness = Illness is masterful.

message 14: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Puma Glad you liked this one. I'm thinkin' it's about time to bump this one up on my To Reread list.

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