MELVILLE HOUSE, £9.99 Order for £9.49 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Last Interview, By Roberto Bolaño, with Monica Maristain
Inside story on a Chilean sensation
Monday 23 August 2010
The posthumous success of the Chilean poet and novelist Roberto Bolaño is almost emblematic of our desire, as readers, for stories behind our stories.
After a lifetime of more-or-less penurious existence, Bolaño saw his novel The Savage Detectives jump the language barrier to reap acclaim in the English- as well as Spanish-speaking world. He then raced to complete its 900-page successor, 2666, apparently putting off treatment for the liver failure that killed him to do so.
Now we are seeing the gradual emergence of earlier Bolaño books into English translation. Picador has given us The Amulet and Nazi Literature in the Americas, with The Skating Rink to come this autumn. Positive though their reception has been, much of it seems to buy into the romantic idea of Bolaño the tragic, solitary genius.
This slim collection of four interviews, the first from 1999, the last "shortly before" his death, does a little to feed the myth, and much to correct it. They contain pathos ("my children are my only motherland"), humour ("The good thing about stealing books – unlike safes – is that one can carefully examine their contents before perpetrating the crime") and tough-tender mixtures of the two.
More important is the sheer profusion of Latin American writers that Bolaño references, from the familiar to the currently obscure. Whether Bolaño is the best writer of his generation or not, he was inextricably bound to it, and we make a mistake if we read about them only through him.
The interviews come with an introduction by US journalist Marcela Valdes that sheds light on the genesis of 2666. She goes into detail about the spate of murders – of over 400 women and girls – in the Mexican state of Chihuahua in the 1990s, the crime spree that forms the backbone of Bolaño's novel. She gives due honour, too, to the Mexican journalist Sergio González Rodríguez, who exposed the corruption and connivance between state, police and drug traffickers that allowed the murders to continue.
Bolaño and Rodríguez corresponded, and met, and Bolaño made him a character in the novel – under his real name, which understandably seems rather to have unnerved Rodríguez. All of this makes The Last Interview an indispensable acquisition for anyone with more than a passing interest in Bolaño.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 3 Paul Scholes: Manchester United need five experienced players who can turn round a desperate situation
- 4 Nicki Minaj 'Anaconda': Singer finally releases predictable video
- 5 James Foley 'beheading': Met police warn public watching murder video could be criminal offence
Laughs go global as Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran bring international comedians to the Edinburgh Fringe
The Top Ten: Horrible buildings
JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing 'Singing Sorceress' Celestina Warbuck
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Celebrity Big Brother 2014 line-up: Meet the contestants from Lauren Goodger to Kellie Maloney and Audley Harrison
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Scottish Independence Referendum: Salmond described as 'arrogant, ambitious and dishonest' by Scottish women