Visiting Chile in the mid-1990s, I was amazed by the ubiquity of poets. They loitered on the streets, wearing tweed jackets and caps in imitation of their icon, Pablo Neruda, and for a few coins they would sell you a poem, or write one to order.
Poets also abound in the fiction of the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, but here they are caught up in improbable scenes of violence, as though the author were moonlighting on scripts for CSI. Tension mounts in one story after a literary editor rejects his friend's poems because "two Chileans was one Chilean too many for the first issue of a little magazine devoted to Spanish writing".
In "A Literary Adventure", a character dubbed "B" mischievously writes a parody of his rival ("A") into a novel. But, to his surprise, A praises B's novel in the press. B writes another book and this time A rewards him with a glowing, five-page review. B becomes neurotic, paranoid and ill as he dwells obsessively on the reasons behind A's generosity.
Bolaño, who died in Spain in 2003, acknowledged a debt to Borges, who would have loved these literary detective stories. He writes as though presenting depositions in a court room. Forensic attention is paid to details such as the position of a person's hands, while other information is glossed over in a line or two: "Years went by. Many years. Some friends died. I got married, had a child, published some books." Read More
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