Friday, November 30, 2007

Bolaño's Last Evenings on Earth

In the back of this week's TLS there's an advertisement for The VS Pritchett Memorial Prize 2008 run by the Royal Society of Literature.
A prize of £1,000 will be awarded for an unpublished short story of between 2,000 and 5,000 words.
Usually, I wouldn't even read any further, but this time I was reminded of Last Evenings on Earth, a collection of Roberto Bolaño's wonderful stories. Is it the first, Sensini, in which the narrator corresponds with a reclusive author with whom he shared a short story prize? My copy is back in the library so I can't check. Anyway, in either that story or the next the narrator tells of their correspondence, how they prompt each to enter short story competitions, sometimes entering the same story in separate competitions, merely changing the title. Nobody notices even if they win. It's a beguiling tale. Yet I was also frustrated with the silence about the stories themselves. Both authors seem to write them with matter-of-fact ease. What are the stories about? Did the writers care about them or consider them confections for a gullible audience? Of course these questions must be what makes it so beguiling. That and £1,000.

It probably isn't a coincidence that all Bolaño's stories, in this collection at least, are on an odd kind of cruise control, giving the impression of having being written in one go, without revision or reflection, never lingering over description, moving relentlessly forward, using initials as names perhaps to camouflage unadorned autobiography, and then stopping, as if a word count or deadline had been met. Still, for all the nagging sense of having been taken for a ride, it's no surprise the narrator won some prizes.

PS: The New Yorker has just published his story Álvaro Rousselot's Journey.


  1. Steve, you are a excellent source of new authors for me. I'd never read any Bolano but I followed the link to the story and found it most intriguing. I can see how he could be a writer to run on autopilot, and yet there's tremendous charm and wit there, too.

  2. That story isn't part of the collection I read and not representative, but one can soon recognise it as Bolano's. You must have heard of him before though! The litblogs have been raving about The Savage Detectives...

  3. Nope, remarkably, he'd passed me by. Although I have just this moment ordered a copy of The Savage Detectives, in the same spirit of almost complete ignorance!



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