Roberto Bolaño Short Stories Overview at the Guardian UK

The Guardian UK has a good overview of some of Roberto Bolaño’s short stories. (Tip: make sure you read through the comments. There is further suggestions of what to read from the author, Chris Power)

It is impossible to write about any one strand of Bolaño’s work in isolation, because nearly all of it inhabits one sprawling intertextual territory. Speaking in 1998 he said, “I consider, in a very humble way, all my prose, and even some of my poetry, to be a whole. Not only stylistically, but also as a narrative.” Enjoying contrariness, Bolaño rowed back from this statement elsewhere, but the recurrence of characters, themes and incidents in his work is undeniable. His alter ego Arturo Belano, for example, features in or narrates many of the short stories, as well as being a lead character in the novel The Savage Detectives, and the narrator of the novels Distant Star and – according to a note in Bolaño’s papers – 2666.

Bolaño’s stories take the form of fragments of memoir (“Sensini”, “The Grub”), unsolvable detective stories (“Phone Calls”), or anxious transmissions from a region between dream and reality (“The Dentist”). Sometimes, as in “Gómez Palacio”, they feel like all three at once. An account of a writer going to a remote town in northern Mexico to interview for a teaching post, the story establishes its strange air of lassitude and dread at once: “I went to Gómez Palacio during one of the worst periods of my life. I was twenty-three years old and I knew that my days in Mexico were numbered.” The narrator discusses poetry with the director of the art school, has bad dreams (Bolaño’s work is clotted with dreams), and stands in the room of his isolated motel “looking at the desert stretching off into the dark”. Parked at dusk in the desert in the director’s car, a situation with a vague sexual potential that perhaps neither party wants to realise, a man pulls in a few metres ahead of them. “It’s my husband, the director said with her eyes fixed on the stationary car, as if she were talking to herself.” The cars sit in silence. When the writer drives away the man in the other car “turned his back to us and I couldn’t see his face.” The director then tells the writer she was joking, that it wasn’t her husband after all.