The book’s already here but, of course, I’m out of mezcal. No, no, tequila won’t do. Some books call for wine, others for coffee, but when it comes to reading the work of Roberto Bolano (and books about his work), it has to be mezcal.
The book in question is Chris Andrews’, Roberto Bolano’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe, from Columbia University Press. Andrews is the translator of a number of Bolano’s works, including the sublime novella, By Night in Chile, and the excellent short story collection, Last Evenings on Earth. Andrews posits in the introduction to, An Expanding Universe, that translators are in a unique position to offer commentary and criticism on an author’s work, due to the demands of the translation process. That’s the draw of this new book: 300 pages of reflection from someone who has been both, “absorbed in,” and, “haunted by the quiet places,” of Bolano’s fiction.
And the mezcal? It fits nicely with the ambience of Bolano’s fiction. Reading Bolano can be a bit like sitting at a bar and talking to the guy next to you, who turns out to be the saddest, yet most interesting person you spoken to all week. For those who haven’t read Bolano, either of the works listed above are a great place to start, as they both showcase Bolano’s gifts as a storyteller: Last Evenings, is one of the most solid short story collections ever published, and By Night is a feat of technical brilliance (one he never felt the need to equal). If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, then try The Savage Detectives, and bask in wonder at how he was able to nail so many diverse voices in the central section and yet still bring it all together into something that is all the more powerful because of its unconventional form.
Of course, all of this is sheer conjecture, the mutterings of a man who remembered the formula and diapers, but forgot the liquor. Here’s something more concrete, an exquisite excerpt from the short story, Mexican Manifesto, to whet your appetite:
“The baths at that hour seemed to enjoy, or suffer from, a permanent shadow. That is, a trick shadow, a dome or a palm tree, the closest thing to a marsupial’s pouch; at first you’re grateful for it, but it ends up weighing more than a tombstone.”
Only a poet could write prose like that. The way the words work on your mouth, like a sip of mezcal.