Saturday, August 29, 2009

Roberto Bolaño: The Skating Rink

Wyatt Mason reviews Roberto Bolañops The Skating Rink.
In the apparently inexhaustible post­humous career of the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, a significant second act will soon be upon us, leaving some readers to clap excitedly while others throw up their hands in submission: the large number of books by Bolaño already available is soon to double. In addition to the eight that have swiftly and ably arrived in translation in the six years since his death in 2003 at age 50, four new books by Bolaño are scheduled to appear in 2010 (two novels, two story collections) with three others promised for 2011. What’s more, according to recent reports out of Spain, another two finished novels have been found among Bolaño’s papers, as well as a sixth, unknown part of his already abundant 900-page novel “2666.”

While such a mountain of new material is bound to make literary hearts flutter, a little red flag waves at its summit: when it comes to publishing the dead, the best isn’t often saved for last. Given the nearly uniform excellence of Bolaño’s writing to date, it seems unlikely that any of the looming titles could equal the exceptional “By Night in Chile” (translated in 2003), “The Savage Detectives” (2007) or last year’s “2666,” which already compete for consideration as Bolaño’s masterpiece. At the very least, readers yet to experience Bolaño’s writing — its narrative variety and verve, its linguistic resourcefulness, its unusual combination of gravity and playfulness, brutality and tenderness — increasingly face the very practical problem of having to divine which book on the widening shelf of Bolaños should be read first.

“The Skating Rink,” the only new Bolaño appearing this year, won’t make the decision any easier: this short, exquisite novel is another unlikely masterpiece, as sui generis as all his books so far. Originally published in Spanish in 1993 and the first of Bolaño’s novels to see print, “The Skating Rink” could seem, in thumbnail, little more than a modest whodunit. A crime, the brutal murder of a woman, is committed in the Spanish seaside town of Z. As the corpse-and-culprit genre dictates, the novel establishes the sequence of events that sets the crime in motion and follows the bloody trail until, in the final pages, the killer’s surprising identity is revealed.
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