Roberto Bolano's Fiction: An Expanding Universe

Chris Andrews, Author
Chris Andrews. Columbia Univ, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-231-16806-9
Reviewed on: 04/28/2014
Release date: 07/01/2014
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In this superb volume of criticism, poet Andrews, the English translator of 10 of Bolano's books, deftly analyzes the complex themes and narrative layers of Bolano's fictional universe. Although not primarily a study of reception nor a biography, Andrews excels at explaining the anomalous causes of Bolano's rapid rise to fame in North America. He pinpoints Nazi Literature in the Americas as Bolano's "incubator" for future characters and stories. The personal writing system that Bolano used to produce much of his fiction is shown to be a simple yet rigorous method of "expansion, circulating characters, metarepresentation, and overinterpretation." Andrews arranges his critique thematically, with chapters on "Aimlessness," "Duels and Brawls," "Evil Agencies," and "A Sense of What Matters." In addition, he explains how the influence of Borges's "humor and courage" affected Bolano's beliefs about courage as it relates to the persistence of poetry and literature. As expected from a translator, Andrews displays an intimate familiarity with the novels and stories, and includes many close readings, lengthy quotations, and side-by-side comparisons to illustrate the ways Bolano expanded his plots and characters. He even includes an appendix that maps the fictional murders in 2666 onto the real femicides in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to show that Bolano did not exaggerate the scale of this atrocity. An indispensable guide to navigating the rich world of Bolano's fiction. (July)
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