Exile on dead-end street
"A minor poet disappears without leaving a trace, hopelessly stranded in some town on the Mediterranean coast of France. There is no investigation. There is no corpse. By the time B turns to Daumal, night has fallen on the beach; he shuts the book & slowly makes his way back to the hotel."
The last evenings on earth, shouldn't make sense, it's a book about failure, not the usual fireworks & all guns blazing failure I've come to expect from Bolano's work (The savage detectives, 2666). No this is wretched, abject - from the Latin "abjectus" meaning, cast away, this is the flotsam & jetsam of Latin- America, exiled from their own past. Individuals washed up on the shores of Europe, some having escaped torture & violence under General Pinochet's regime, yet having not really escaped, still wearing the chains, still bearing the scars, still living haunted lives of utter anonymity. Bolano also writes about the writers, poets and artists that history forgot, the ones who regardless of talent, pursued a life of dedication to their muse, the ones who sacrificed themselves upon its altar & left not a blood stain.
These characters work as dishwashers, send poems to obscure magazines, enter competitions for a pittance of a prize, for the one chance that a light may illuminate their genius, that some voice will sing out & proclaim their worth. Lives are spent travelling from A to B, but B's never different, it's the same cheap hotel, the same bar filled with the same shades, just a different costume on the same whore .
"Have you found Henri Lefebvre? asks M. She must be still half asleep, thinks B. Then he says no. She has a pretty laugh. Why are you so interested in him? she asks, still laughing. Because nobody else is, says B. And because he was good."
These stories fall into two categories, they are either 1st person recollections, where the narrator recounts an episode from his past - a chance encounter, meeting old friends or enemies - or 3rd person accounts of a writer named B, (Belano/Bolano). Exiled from his homeland & subsisting on the margins of his adopted country, of time spent travelling in search of something long lost & settling for some short lived comfort, some transient shelter. Yet at the heart of these tales, this is just one story, that is not a criticism of the book. This is the story of artists, writers & poets exiled from all that could be called home. Individuals caught in their own private quests, hunted by nightmares, always on the edge. These are chased shadows no longer relevant.
Despite all this, the book is addictive. By the time you've started the third story, you will belong to these characters, it will matter what happens to them. The French poet who shone in the resistance only to fadeout as a teacher in some remote village, the exiled writer who goes home to recover his sons body then languishes & dies, or just following Ann Moore's life from the age of 20 - 40. It will matter, fold the corner on the page, put the book down, leave the room & it will be there, just behind your eyes, in between your thought processes, it will be the beat that paces your journeys, it's shadow will dog your footsteps & your sleeping self, will continue to turn the pages.
"There's nothing for me to do here, says B. This sentence will pursue him throughout the return journey like the headlights of a phantom car"
Although last evenings on earth is compiled from 2 previous collections (Llamadas Telefonicas & Putas Asesinas) of Bolano's, it doesn't feel bolted together, if there are joins, if in places it doesn't quite match, I couldn't find them. Yes it's fragmented, but the fault lines are those of the characters, the fractures are the human lives that he writes about.
"The secret story is the one we'll never know, although we're living it from day to day, thinking we're alive, thinking we've got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn't matter. But every single damn thing matters! Only we don't realize. We just tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, and we don't realize that's a lie."Translator.
Roberto Bolano Interview
The Romantic Dogs - Roberto Bolano
Natasha Wimmer on translating (Bolano's risqué scenes)