Each story reveals a centrifugal writer with a brilliant command of words and no fear of a plot’s getting away from him.



A posthumous triad of novellas by Bolaño, postmodernist par excellence, late of Chile, Mexico, and Spain.

“It’s…a novel (like all novels, really) that doesn’t begin in the novel, in the book-object that contains it, understand? Its first pages are in some other book, or in a back alley where a crime has been committed.” So says a mysterious caller to a young intellectual named Diodorus Pilon in the first novella, French Comedy of Horrors, summoning him to Paris to join the Clandestine Surrealist Group—a group so shadowy that no one quite knows what it is. Will he answer the call? Only Bolaño knows. The title piece is similarly far-flung, with our narrator starting off in Chile, moving north to Mexico, land of those cowboy graves, and then returning to Chile just in time, the chronology suggests, to get caught up in Pinochet’s fascist coup of 1973. As ever, the story contains a classic improbability: The narrator, just 15, is an accidental reader of the poet Nicanor Parra and goes off in quest of him while getting ready to leave Chile: “I didn’t know where he lived, of course….From the start, I suspected that it would be hard to get there and just as hard to get back.” The science fictional, Jesuit-twitting story within the story is vintage Bolaño while Fatherland, the third novella, is especially fragmentary and inconclusive. Set in Concepción, along the central Chilean coast, it’s a whirl of volcanoes ever about to erupt, of a Nazi fighter that appears in the skies overhead, and of the steady devolution of humankind: “We’ve progressed from the perfect execution to the concentration camp and the atomic bomb.” In an afterword, the Spanish poet Juan Antonio Masoliver Ródenas notes that the first and third stories were written in the 1990s and the second in 2002-2003, concurrently with books such as Distant Star and The Savage Detectives and perhaps even part of them at one time, which makes them no less enigmatic.

Each story reveals a centrifugal writer with a brilliant command of words and no fear of a plot’s getting away from him.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2288-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A blackhearted but wayward yarn.


A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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