Friday, November 26, 2010

Literary Bookhop.


What makes a contemporary novel a classic?
Discuss a book which you think fits the category of ‘modern classics’ and explain why. This is the question posed for this week by the ladies of the Blue Bookcase &  if you ignore the inherent contradiction between the terms classic & contemporary & go to what I believe is the very heart of this idea, then my definition would be.

If a classic is a book that has transcended its place and time, whether that is through its ability to be understood as a definition of what it is to be human, or as a key to understanding that dilemma. Then a contemporary classic by definition would be, a novel that although written now would fulfil this criteria. So regardless of its subject matter it could be judged by this definition, by this  I mean, whether we are discussing the spaceships from Mars 2156 or the cultural nuances of  Augustine Rome 395-476, you may or may not understand all the cultural or technological  references, but you can understand the humanity of the characters

.Following this lead my next problem is to break down my list of possible books, for example any one who just glances sideways at this blog, will expect me to have a Roberto Bolano book in this list, but which one 2666 has got to be a contender, if not already possessor of the prize, yet what about The savage detectives, Distant Star, Nazi Lit etc. In the end I decided to pick what is probably my favourite

Last Evenings on Earth.

AlthoughThisbookyoumustread_thumb18 this probably shouldn’t count, as it’s actually compiled from  2 previous collections (Llamadas Telefonicas & Putas Asesinas) of Bolano's, it doesn't feel bolted together & despite  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.

As I’ve already started to take liberties, with my selection process, for my next choice I’ve decided to take “Contemporary” literally, as in “Belonging to the present time, Current, Very modern, Up to date” &  the book in question was in contention for this years Man Booker Literary prize & although it lost out in the end, I’m making it my Contemporary Classic

C by Tom McCarthy


Tom McCarthy plots a large story using a microscope, to zero in at certain aspects before pulling back for a wider perspective and this has a wide perspective, covering everything from the life cycle of silkworms, early telecommunications, through the first world war fighter planes and Egyptology. Using my definition of a classic, this book ticks all the boxes,the characters absolutely scream their humanity from the cries of a freshly swaddled babe to that final rattle alone with your thoughts, or your maker.

For my final choice I’m choosing another war based novel, I don’t know much about this author, having so far only managed two of his works so my choice is based on personal like & base ignorance, he may have written better books than my choice, but that's part of my journey as a reader. As a  reader in the west, I’ve seen and read lots of stories about the war from a western perspective, this book and author introduced me to a different view, in the process fulfilling perfectly the role of good literature, that being to open your eyes to other worlds & through that increase your understanding.

The Sea & Poison by Shusaku Endo.

Shusako_Endo_thumb[2]The book starts as a prologue, with the visit to a  “ shabbily constructed house, more like a shed than a Dr’s surgery” by an unnamed man seeking a Doctor for a routine injection. He meets Dr Suguro, whose faultless technique, but cold distant attitude, piques his curiosity. A while later, whilst at a  family wedding, he meets another doctor who is a fellow guest, they get chatting & he finds out that the other doctor knew Suguro & through his tale we learn about Dr Suguro’s past.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

By Night in Chile

Roberto Bolano

“One has to be responsible, as I have always said. One has a moral obligation to take responsibility for one’s actions, and that includes one’s words and silences, yes, one’s silences, because silences rise to heaven too, and God hears them, and only God understands and judges them, so one must be very careful with one’s silences. I am responsible in every way. My silences are immaculate. Let me make that clear.”

So begins the confession of Father Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix, Jesuit priest, literary critic and poet, who believes he is dying and wants to spend his last moments justifying his life and work.

A true masterpiece that will remain one of the key readings of contemporary literature

Told over one night, the Father, a member of Opus Dei (Latin for "Work of God"), rants and raves against some “wizened youth” to vindicate himself and to "belie the slanderous rumours the wizened youth spread”. Slowly through this ragbag of memories, half memories and delusional ramblings, we build up the story of his life, from his early days in poverty dreaming of being a poet, through, at the age of thirteen, receiving Gods call to the priesthood  and on through his career as a literary critic.

Despite all his protestations, we soon become aware that what he says needs careful listening,  because he will tell you things like “my silences are immaculate” or “that life is a succession of misunderstandings, leading us on to the final truth, the only truth”. Yet we learn how he embarked on a literary career as a critic, how he became involved with some (shady) agents of opus Dei and is offered a tour of the churches of Europe, to report back on the methods used to preserve these dilapidated old buildings, which involves Falcons (to keep pigeons away). The father, laying on his deathbed, remembers/imagines these scenes in beautiful, feverish flights of prose.

“Ta Gueule appeared again like a lightning bolt, or the abstract idea of a lightning bolt, and stooped on the huge flocks of starlings coming out of the west like swarms of flies, darkening the sky with their erratic fluttering, and after a few minutes the fluttering of the starlings was bloodied, scattered and bloodied, and afternoon on the outskirts of Avignon took on a deep red hue, like the colour of sunsets seen from an aeroplane, or the colour of dawns, when the passenger is woken gently by the engines whistling in his ears and lifts up the little blind and sees the horizon marked with a red line, like the planet’s femoral artery, or the planet’s aorta, gradually swelling, and I saw that swelling blood vessel in the sky over Avignon, the blood-stained flight of the starlings, Ta Gueule splashing colour like an abstract expressionist painter, ah, the peace, the harmony of nature, nowhere as evident or as unequivocal as in Avignon, and then Fr Fabrice whistled and we waited for an indefinable time, measured only by the beating of our hearts, until our quivering warrior came to rest upon his arm."

On arriving back from Chile, he discovers that the agents have another job for him - the real cost of his jaunt around Europe -  which is to teach Marxism to members of Pinochet’s Junta (to better “understand the enemy”). From this point on, Father Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix, Jesuit priest, literary critic and poet’s star is in the ascendency. We see him now mixing with the intelligentsia, attending parties, literary events etc.. It’s whilst at one of these literary salons, held by Maria Canales (based on Mariana Callejas*), that we learn of the dark side, that the house used for the salon is a torture centre, although he claims to only know rumours or to have heard after the fact, all around him people were being tortured and killed he did nothing, claims to know nothing.

Why didn’t anyone say anything at the time? the answer was simple; because they were afraid. I was not afraid. I would have been able to speak out, but I didn’t see anything, i didn’t know until it was too late. Why go stirring up things that have settled down over the years ?”

In fact, his only concern with the junta was a curfew they imposed. 

“We were bored. We read and we got bored. We intellectuals. Because you can’t read all day and all night. You can’t write all day and all night. Splendid isolation has never been our style, and back then, as now, Chilean artists and writers need to gather and talk, ideally in a pleasant setting where they could find intelligent company. Apart from the inescapable fact that many of the old crowd had left the country for reasons that were often more personal than political, the main difficulty was the curfew. Where could the artists and intellectuals meet if everywhere was shut after ten at night, for, as everyone knows, night is the most propitious time for getting together and enjoying a little unbuttoned conversation with one’s peers. Artists and writers. Strange times.”

The confession of Father Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix, reveals his life

“ like a necklace of rice grains, on each grain of which a landscape has been painted, tiny grains and microscopic landscapes, and I knew that everyone was putting that necklace on and wearing it, but know one had the patience, or the strength or the courage to take it off….”.

Because to do so would expose the collusion inherent within the literary world he was part of, to do so would reveal

“that the landscapes usually turned out to contain unpleasant surprises like coffins, makeshift cemeteries, ghost towns ..”.

By night in Chile is only 130 pages long & reads as though it’s a single paragraph, as though the Father drew breathe once and spilt his guts, pouring out memories, some reworked, some wished for, some justifying, vindicating himself, in the end to the only one left to him - Sebastian Urrutia Lacroix, or the young poet, idealist he once was.

by-night-in-chile-roberto-bolano3"Mordant, haunting and sometimes elegiac...takes the reader hurtling into the darkest psychological folds of one man and one country."
- Marc Cooper, The Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A contemporary novel destined to have a permanent place in world literature."
- Susan Sontag, The Manchester Guardian

"Haunting and mordant ... written with unsettling art ... the most damning sentence ... has the pallor and stillness of a shroud."
- Richard Eder, The New York Times

* Mariana Callejas was married to Michael Townley - one of Pinochet’s notorious killers & member of the secret police. His  crimes included  the murder of Allende's ex-minister Orlando Letelier & American citizen Ronni Moffit.

Roberto Bolano(wikipedia)

Roberto Bolano(Bomb magazine Interview)

In lieu of a field guide (bolano info)


Whilst reading this, a certain song refrain kept intruding into my thoughts, after a while I paid  closer attention to it, and realised that it not only fitted this books subject matter, it sounded  like some thing from a Bolano novel.

Repent, Repent I wonder what they meant.


“All your lousy little poets coming round,

trying to sound like Charley Manson, 

see the white girl dancin”


Friday, November 19, 2010

Is there such a thing as literary non-fiction? If so, how do you define it?

Last week the ladies at –The Blue Bookcase, started a Bloghop covering work of a literary nature. They define this as

"literary" if it focuses primarily on texts with aesthetic merit. In other words, texts that show quality not only in narrative but also in the effect of their language and structure.”

Now into its second week & we have another question which is,

Is there such a thing as literary non-fiction? If so, how do you define it?

When I first saw this, I blinked, looked again, then turned & ran. Because this looked, like a migraine waiting to happen, I mean we all know what’s  understood by the term “literary” ‘ or do we? flitting around a few of my favourite blogs,  I’ve learnt that it’s a mythical creature, something like a Chimera, you know, part goat, part lion, part serpent. A composite of various styles, genres, fictions (meta, post mod etc.) or it’s something approaching godhead, a high-falutin, pedestal sitting savant, peering through it’s monocle at the world below…So I ran and with my typical high level of bravado…..I hid.

After a few moments hiding, clutching my security blanket (I  sat staring at my bookcase), I opened my eyes and starting thinking. What is Non-Fiction? I mean is poetry nonfiction?, because, it appears that’s what I’ve always thought. Then there’s the works of philosophy, would anyone who has read Nietzsche's  “Twilight of the Idols” or Albert Camus’s “The Rebel” deny their literary merit .This left me with a dilemma, the opposite of that I started with, I now had more ideas for books than I had time to write about, so what do I choose, well, in the end, with a bit of juggling, swordplay & various other techniques I whittled it down to three.

After Babel – Aspects of language & translation

George Steiner

after babel“Translation exists because men speak different languages. This truism is, in fact, founded on a situation which can be regarded as enigmatic & as posing problems of extreme psychological & socio-historical difficulty. Why should Human Beings  speak thousands of different, mutually incomprehensible tongues…..”

First published in 1975, this book constituted the first systematic investigation of the theory and processes of translation since the 18century. Donald Davie of the Times Literary supplement wrote “He is saying great things we cannot afford not to take note of….I greatly admire the intellectual venture which the book represents”. But for me this book is a gateway, a door, a key, through this book I discovered a world of writers, poets, philosophers, authors old & new. This book, with it’s passion for its subject matter, the sheer bravado of vision, coupled with the intelligence shining from every page, makes this a literary gem.

My second book is, Gaston Bachelard’s

The Poetics of Space

Thirty years since its first publication in English, French philosopher Gaston Bachelard's Poetics of Space remains one of the most appealing and lyrical explorations of home. Bachelard takes us on a journey, from cellar to attic, to show how our perceptions of houses and other shelters shape our thoughts, memories, and dreams.

”Space that has been seized upon by the imagination cannot remain indifferent space subject to the measures and estimates of the surveyor. It has been lived in, not in its positivity, but with all the partiality of the imagination.”pos

This book comes across as a prose poem, celebrating mans relationship with space - whether wide open or the smallest room.

“Shells & doorknobs, closets & attics, old towers & peasant huts, all shimmer here, shimmer as points linked in the transcendental geometry…..The poetics of space resonates deeply, vibrating at the edges of the imagination, exploring the recesses of the psyche, the hallways of the mind. In the house Bachelard discovers a metaphor of Humanness”

Underground-Tokyo gas attack & the Japanese psyche, by Haruki Murakami is myhm third choice, and this is a book I have reviewed before

On the 20th of March 1995, 5 members of the Aum shinri kyo cult entered the Tokyo subway system & upon boarding the trains released a lethal gas.The method used was a chemical agent in liquid form, called Sarin, they each carried two packets or about 900mls ( a pinhead sized drop can kill an adult & their families), which were dropped on the train floors then pierced with sharpened umbrella tips. The 5 members then left their individual trains to meet with their accomplices & were driven off.
This act, by the Aum shinri kyo was, and to this date is still, the most serious terrorist attack in Japanese history. In a society that had been considered virtually crime free, this attack caused widespread fear & disruption on a scale that simply overwhelmed all concerned.

How do you write a book, that’s for the most part a series of interviews, & yet still have it instantly recognised as a book that could have been written by no one else, a book that has your persona written through its very spine. In writing this book Haruki Murakami, not only investigated the crime, but questioned the country (his motherland) in which this act of terrorism was committed.

Highlighting in the process a people lonely & alienated, trapped in a society enthralled by industrialisation & modernity. A people lost from their traditions, spirituality & the family ties of its past. In writing this book he questions all modern cultures?

Having entered both of the hops, I think it would be extremely remiss of me not to thank and mention the people behind this literary exercise, so I send a hearty thanks to the ladies of The Blue Bookcase –Connie, Ingrid & Christina.

Tom McCarthy


We follow the protagonist (Serge Carrefax) of this novel from his first mewling's through the screams & shouts of the first world war & right up to his very last whisper. His childhood is spent at an experimental school for the deaf, loosely brought up by a father whose work is at the cutting edge of communication technology & a mother who creates tapestries from home produced silk whilst existing in some opium dream unaware of the everyday world around her (to the extent that a 2 year old Serge almost drowns). In fact his whole world at this time appears abstract and theoretical, as if it was at least one stage removed from reality. The only bright burning life force is his sister Sophie, who is a constant source of curiosity, dragging him along on her latest challenge / experiment, then dumping him when she’s bored. A typical younger brother, Serge wanders aimlessly in Sophie's shadow, she’s abnormally bright, a naturally gifted student, knows the names of all the plants in their garden, is obsessed with her chemistry experiments, she even poisons the family cat, then takes immense pleasure in performing taxidermy on it ( to be added to the family collection?). Time barely moves, Sophie has her Phytology & chemistry, Serge developes an  interest in wireless communication until one day Sophie goes to college, falls in love (unrequited?) & commits suicide, there follows a hasty funereal, which has the appearance of a pageant and very few signs of emotion.

Whilst at a health spa, for some bowel blockage, he chooses to loose his virginity to his crooked backed nurse, who he leaves without a backward glance as he volunteers to join the British army’s flying corps at the start of the first world war. As a wireless operator in spotter planes, he developes a cocaine & then a heroin habit, giving him a new perspective whilst flying in the fighter planes.

“Whole swathes of space becoming animated by the plumed trajectories of plans and orders metamorphosed into steel and cordite, speed and noise. Everything seems connected: disparate locations twitch and burst into activity like limbs reacting to impulses sent from elsewhere in the body, booms and jibs obeying levers at the far end of a complex set of ropes and cogs and relays.”

In fact such is his change of perspective, that his pilot is killed as he watches the enemy attack, refusing to defend the plane he is in because

“The German aeroplane is beautiful, elegant and agile; and it’s selected them, of all the men and machines in the battlefield, to bear down on them with its colour and its words ---- as though, like an annunciating angel, it had a message to convey-“

Serge survives, becomes a prisoner of war, escapes, gets captured as a spy and is released as the war ends. Back in England he half heartedly studies architecture whilst partying with actresses, artists, before nearly dying again, after he recovers he becomes a spy (inept) in Egypt.

If you’ve wondered why after telling this much of the story, there is no warning (Spoiler alert) giving you advance notice of revealed storylines, why I’ve even revealed the amount I have - my reasoning is that for every line I have shone a light on a dozen have remained occluded, this book has messages, tangents, clues - some relevant, some labyrinthine - leading to dead ends or passages angled slightly left of perspective, only seen from the corner of our vision. This is a book of dots and dashes, of communication and its lack, because like Pynchon, the author uses codes, signs and semiotics.

“It’s dusk; the museum’s rooms and corridors are murky. The two men stand quite static, Petrou sideways-on to Serge, his gaze fixed on his chest --  as though they, too, were sculptures, syncretic overlays of eras and mythologies, gods, mortals and their relics. they remain like this as Petrou continues, in a voice becoming fainter all the time, his recitation

“For after  this night cometh…?”

His words trail off. Serge turns away from him, towards the window. Through it, in the gloaming, he can see a firefly pulsing photically,  in dots and dashes.”c-m_1694820f

 Also like Pynchon, Tom McCarthy plots a large story using a microscope, to zero in at certain aspects before pulling back for a wider perspective and this has a wide perspective, covering everything from the life cycle of silkworms, early telecommunications, through the first world war fighter planes and Egyptology. This is a large tale told very well, not all of it understood some, like all communication, falters in the telling or is only understood after the fact, understood to late, and some like old radio transmissions bounce back from old satellites and  other orbiting debris to haunt, ghost signals constantly flashing at the edges of consciousness.

Tom McCarthy

Friday, November 12, 2010

Literary Blog Hop

The good people at The Blue Bookcase have this Blog hop that covers books of literary merit  and each week they pose a question.This weeks question is, What is The most difficult Literary work you have ever read ?

I have chosen  to interpret it slightly differently, and have made it in recent times. So by rephrasing  the question a tad

The most difficult literary work that I have read in recent times has to be, Roberto Bolano's 2666. Partly because it's in 5 parts, but mainly because of part 4 " The part about the crimes"This book covers the killing of countless women, over decades in Santa Teresa & is based on the actual events in Juarez. It’s written as hardboiled fiction & reportage.

2666 is also an unfulfilled love story, its a world war 2 epic, it’s science fiction, it’s horror, reportage, it’s a thriller, it’s a comedy, it’s a vision of hell. It’s also the vision St Thomas Aquinas had of heaven, where the righteous can enjoy their  beatitude & the grace of god more richly by being granted a perfect sight of the damned.

Writers on Bolano

Argentine novelist, Rodrigo Fresian, wrote “It doesn’t make much sense to read about 2666, one must read 2666”

“He took what was there, as Joyce did with Ireland almost a century earlier – a broken society with a strange literary tradition. And he set about turning it on its head, using chaos, its unformed & unstable nature, its violence & making a myth out of that” –Colm tiobin

“Anyone who has been young & in love & besotted with poetry, can’t help but respond to Bolano. He has a natural storytellers gift – but more important, he has the power to lend an extraordinary glamour to the activities of making love & making poetry” – Edmund White

Location : Willetts Hill, Monkton, Kent CT12 4,

Steven Millhauser

                The Barnum Museum



The Barnum Museum is a combination of waxworks, masked ball and circus sideshow masquerading as a collection of short stories. Within its pages, note such sights as: a study of the motives and strategies used by the participants in the game of Clue, including the seduction of Miss Scarlet by Colonel Mustard; the Barnum Museum, a fantastic, monstrous landmark so compelling that an entire town finds its citizens gradually and inexorably disappearing into it; a bored dilettante who constructs an imaginary woman - and loses her to an imaginary man! - and a legendary magician so skilled at sleight-of-hand that he is pursued by police for the crime of erasing the line between the real and the conjured.The work of a Sorcerer, a devotee of Paradox.

  • A Game of Clue
  • Behind the Blue Curtain
  • The Barnum Museum
  • The Sepia Postcard
  • The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad
  • Klassik Komix #1
  • Rain
  • Alice, Falling
  • The Invention of Robert Herendeen
  • Eisenheim the Illusionist


Although this is a collection of short stories, I feel this is a misnomer, as these tales  may appear finite on the page, but escape these limitations through the authors own sleight of hand. Steven Millhauser is the puppet master behind the illusionist, he is the Wizard of Oz, with such a panoply of devices, tricks, magic mirrors and secret panels. A wondrous array of machinery that one mind could possibly conceive.

The perfect example is the story – A Game of Clue (Cluedo), this story is told from the perspective of the players, following their thoughts & feelings, their gameplay and what is happening in their lives, whilst, at the same time we follow the characters in the game – Mr Green, Mrs Peacock, Professor Plum, and of course Miss Scarlet who is being pursued by Colonel Mustard. We watch the action as it unfolds with a needlepoint description of every minute detail, with scientific precision Millhauser unfolds the drama, revealing a tale that totally surprised me with it’s erotic nature that, like some Burlesque dancer, revealed all, yet revealed nothing.

The prevailing architectural form in The Barnum Museum is the labyrinth in which you attempt to navigate your way round, and in doing so you come  across the artefacts, exhibits and all sorts of paraphernalia. Some of it is openly displayed, some hidden in cul de sacs, blind alleys, corners fenced off and yet, you feel an urge to explore, a need to check what’s there, just like the boy in “ Behind the Curtain” which starts as a visit to the movies, until a peek behind the curtain reveals…….. Then there's Robert Herendeen, who invents an imaginary women, spending months creating each component, “ I  decided to invent a human being by means of the full and rigorous application of my powers of imagination”. Only to find he has a rival.            

In the title story (The Barnum Museum), there is a perfect description of the book itself -

“The enemies of the Barnum Museum say that its exhibits are fraudulent; that its deceptions harm our children, who are turned away from the realm of the natural to a false realm of the monstrous and fantastic; that certain displays are provocative, erotic, and immoral; that this temple of so-called wonders draws us out of the sun, tempts us away from healthy pursuits, and renders us dissatisfied with our daily lives.That the presence of the museum in our city encourages those elements which, like confidence men, sharpers, palmists, and astrologers, prey on the gullible; that the very existence of this……….. Some say that these arguments are supported and indeed invented by the directors of the museum, who understand that controversy increases attendance”

And then there is “Eisenheim the illusionist” who conjures up ethereal beings and is being monitored by Herr Uhl -  local chief of police and amateur magician - who believes that Eisenheim is subverting the  Austrian empire by crossing the boundaries of what's considered reality. This was turned into a film starring Edward Norton as Eisenheim  and Paul Giamatti as Inspector Uhl , Director: Neil Burger.

Steven Millhauser(wiki)

The Illusionist(wiki)

Steven Millhauser(Publisher)

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Roberto bolano


    Distant Star

( Slight Spoiler Alert ! )

This novel started as about a twenty page story in Bolano’s “Nazi Literature in the America’s”* concerning one of the right wing writers (Carlos Ramirez Hoffman) of that faux anthology. Roberto Bolano decided that this tale could be worked on and more fully developed into “a mirror and an explosion”.

Carlos Ramirez Hoffman starts “Distant Star” as Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, and is considered a bit of a dandy by the other members a of college poetry workshop he attends, although his main interest appears to be the beautiful Garmendia twins, Veronica and Angelica. This is also where the narrator of the book first glimpses him, and those that have read Nazi-Lit, will know that the narrator is Bolano himself.

Alberto seems as an enigma to his fellow poets, a slightly aristocratic individual, adored by the women, yet he comes across as polite but disinterested to the male members of the college circle, who are in fact a bit jealous of him and his cool styling. This is all thrown into disarray after Pinochet's military coup, when poets, writers and other intellectuals are attacked & either thrown into prison, or seek exile as the dictator’s brutal regime begins. The next time our narrator comes across Tagle, now Wieder, it is from the inside of a concentration camp where he sees a Messerschmitt writing obscure messages amongst the clouds and learns later that it was Wieder. Although released without charge Bolano (narrator) finds himself thrown out of college, and with no hope of work under Pinochet’s regime, he begins a nomadic life wandering Europe.

Whilst on his wanderings, he hears of Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, now Carlos Wieder, who is now an officer in the Chilean air force, and whose poetic leanings have evolved into using aircraft to write messages in the sky. It also turns out Wieder is an assassin/torturer for Pinochet’s gov’t, with a side line in photographing his victims corpses.

                                                                                                              Antartica Is Chile

Whilst all this is going on, Bolano is struggling, leading a hand to mouth existence and as we follow the two individuals (Bolano & Wieder) we learn of the horror, whether physical or spiritual caused by the brutalisation of a country. Through many trials and tribulations, under many aliases & pseudonyms Wieder ends up in Europe. Our narrator gets his next encounter in the form of a visit from an old detective who is being paid to track Wieder down and who will pay him for his help.

This is where the book becomes explicitly what it has played at  being all the time, a detective thriller, Bolano and detective track  Wieder through magazines, fanzines and film, as it appears he’s been rather busy. There's even a kind of stake out, before the detective does what he’s been paid for.

This book for all it’s Bolanoesque (Yeah I know) diversions, digressions and lateral journeys, comes across, at least in part, as a detective novel (which Bolano was a fan of), it’s not a whodunit, there are to many to count, it’s not who’s the victim, as again when do you stop counting, it is more a case of how do you define the innocent, as to some degree we are all complicit, even Bolano, who willingly points his finger at a fellow poet in return for his pieces of silver, whilst knowing in doing so he has condemned him. Under such circumstances is it possible not to get dirty, although as I’ve said before, Bolano believed that art, poetry etc. mattered, he also knew that didn’t make it clean or pure. Experience had taught him  that it could happily turn tricks if called to do so, would readily beg like any half starved dog for it’s masters attention. Yet for all this horror, or maybe because of it, this book is shot through with humour, dark - yes, brutal - yes, uneasy – yes, BUT it’s there, and like Roberto Bolano it’s poking it’s tongue at oppression in all it’s forms.

Translated by – Chris Andrews

Roberto bolano(wiki)

*Nazi Literature in the Americas

Pinochet's regime(wiki)

In lieu of a field guide

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Alessandro Baricco

                        Ocean Sea
Barrico's eerie magic realism is unlike anything in contemporary British writing
Close your eyes, Imagine an old hotel jutting out, almost into the sea, like the prow of an ancient ship. Now imagine the individuals that reside there - a painter named Michel Plasson, who uses sea water to paint the sea, creating beautiful  all-white canvases, Professor Bartleboom, who wants to know precisely where the sea ends for the encyclopaedia he's compiling on Limits. Whilst  at the same time he writes passionate love letters to a woman he hasn't met yet, there's also a woman named Ann Deveria, thinking of her husband and her lover, as she roams the shore. Then we meet Ellissin, a lovely young princess (an ethereal beauty), whose father has sent her here to cure her of some mysterious malady. Now to add an ominous note, which we will do in the form of a former seaman named Adams,  who quietly nurses a sense of vengeance & who is the most enigmatic and darkest of the guests. Eyes still shut ? To run this Inn which we will call the Almayer (possibly a nod in the direction of Joseph  Conrad) how about a group of enchanted children, one of whom seems to have the ability to read or create dreams. Scene is now set, so we can send them out into their world and then follow the stories as they unfold.
We can shadow Bartleboom & his mahogany box of love letters, as he falls in love at first sight with this women, only to discover that she's a twin and he's not sure which he first saw. A really comic tale ensues as he bounces from one to the other, never sure which is his first love. Or we can learn of the catalogue that the professor compiled, of the work of his friend, Plasson (the artist) "Completely white ... Completely white ... Completely white".
Then we follow the awful nightmare, of not only being shipwrecked & cast adrift on a raft, but having to fight for your survival. Whilst, all around you, your fellow castaways are either murdering each other or being killed, you see your newly wed bride killed, leaving  you with nothing left but the urge, no, imperative to survive long enough to avenge her death.

This book is a puzzling magical story. Steeped in mythmaking & whimsy and it's at the junction of this seeming contrast that "Ocean Sea" shows us it's magic and like all magic, there is a dark side, the shadows and nightmares that make us hold on for the light. Also the sea itself, is very much a character here (as unbound nature), indifferent to man’s reason and aspiration.
ocean sea
Like the uncharted nature of a dream, this book casts up disparate images for you to fathom. Flotsam and jetsam washed ashore, then rearranged as fable, or as a collection of impressions in search of a dream, a nightmare, a home.

Translated by - Alastair McEwen.

Alessandro Baricco (Wikipedia)
Almayers folly (Joseph Conrad)
Alessandro Baricco(Publishers)