Saturday, June 14, 2008

Two tiny bits of Bolano for your weekend

Not much time tonight, but since--if my conversations the past few days are anything to go by--it's Roberto Bolano weekend, I want to share a couple of memorable lines. First, I loved this metaphor from Amulet (1999, translated into English in 2006 by Chris Andrews)
Hold on, let me try to remember. Let me stretch time out like a plastic surgeon stretching the skin of a patient under anaesthesia.
I often think of narratives that stretch time as somehow tricking it or distracting it--pulling one over on it, in a sense. Maybe they were anaesthetizing it all along?

I've just started Nazi Literature in the Americas (1996, translated into English in 2008 by Chris Andrews), which is striking because Bolano's prose is cast in a completely different register from the cascading first-person narration of The Savage Detectives, By Night in Chile, and Amulet; instead, this collection of biographies of imaginary fascist writers is composed in imitation of the detachment of an encyclopedia. I've only read a couple of entries so far, but one passage jumped out at me, its wry deadpan evoking the casual cruelties of Waugh or Nabokov:
As the second child of Edelmira Thompson, Juan realized at an early age that he could do whatever he liked with his life. He tried his hand at sports (he was a passable tennis player and an appalling race-car driver).
The precision and balance of that line--the bouncing consonance and assonance of "passable tennis player" and "appalling race-car driver"--are so strong that I want to go find the Spanish, learn how much of that perfection belongs to Bolano and how much to Chris Andrews. If I'm able to track it down, I'll be sure to share it.

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