THE SPIRIT OF SCIENCE FICTION

An abstracted and loose minor work that only glancingly addresses the author's favorite themes.

Two young writers attempt to crack Mexico City’s literary culture with whatever it takes, including earnest letters to science-fiction icons.

This brief, curious, posthumous novel by Bolaño (1953-2003; 2666, etc.), written circa 1984, can be read as a kind of rehearsal for his 2007 breakthrough, The Savage Detectives. Like that novel, this one features a pair of writers, Jan and Remo, who are determined to comprehend the literary culture they’re so passionate about. Jan, an alter ego for Bolaño himself, is more introverted, translating poems and writing fan letters to the likes of Robert Silverberg, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree Jr., and others. Remo, by contrast, engages with a writing workshop, though he seems to spend less time writing then he does pursuing relationships and investigating the curious explosion of literary magazines in the city from 32 titles to 661. Whether they resolve the mysteries of either literary production or women is beside the point, though; the novel is designed more as a series of set pieces from the pair’s lives than a clear narrative, which leaves room for plenty of riffs about writers hungry to make names for themselves. (“In London, teenagers play for a few months at being pop stars,” one scholar tells Remo. “Here, as you might expect, we seek out the cheapest and most pathetic drug or hobby: poetry, poetry magazines; that’s just the way it is.”) The main storyline is interspersed with dialogue from an interview with an unnamed award-winning writer, rambling on tomes about potato farming and science-fiction plots. It’s unclear if Bolaño didn’t finish this novel or deemed it unfit for publication, but either way it’s an unshaped apprentice work, hinting at his particular brilliance—emotional expansiveness, dry humor, passion for the intersection of words and life—but only sketching it out.

An abstracted and loose minor work that only glancingly addresses the author's favorite themes.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2285-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

2666

Unquestionably the finest novel of the present century—and we may be saying the same thing 92 years from now.

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Life and art, death and transfiguration reverberate with protean intensity in the late (1953–2003) Chilean author’s final work: a mystery and quest novel of unparalleled richness.

Published posthumously in a single volume, despite its author’s instruction that it appear as five distinct novels, it’s a symphonic envisioning of moral and societal collapse, which begins with a mordantly amusing account (“The Part About the Critics”) of the efforts of four literary scholars to discover the obscured personal history and unknown present whereabouts of German novelist Benno von Archimboldi, an itinerant recluse rumored to be a likely Nobel laureate. Their searches lead them to northern Mexico, in a desert area notorious for the unsolved murders of hundreds of Mexican women presumably seeking freedom by crossing the U.S. border. In the novel’s second book, a Spanish academic (Amalfitano) now living in Mexico fears a similar fate threatens his beautiful daughter Rosa. It’s followed by the story of a black American journalist whom Rosa encounters, in a subplot only imperfectly related to the main narrative. Then, in “The Part About the Crimes,” the stories of the murdered women and various people in their lives (which echo much of the content of Bolaño’s other late mega-novel The Savage Detectives) lead to a police investigation that gradually focuses on the fugitive Archimboldi. Finally, “The Part About Archimboldi” introduces the figure of Hans Reiter, an artistically inclined young German growing up in Hitler’s shadow, living what amounts to an allegorical representation of German culture in extremis, and experiencing transformations that will send him halfway around the world; bring him literary success, consuming love and intolerable loss; and culminate in a destiny best understood by Reiter’s weary, similarly bereaved and burdened sister Lotte: “He’s stopped existing.” Bolaño’s gripping, increasingly astonishing fiction echoes the world-encompassing masterpieces of Stendhal, Mann, Grass, Pynchon and García Márquez, in a consummate display of literary virtuosity powered by an emotional thrust that can rip your heart out.

Unquestionably the finest novel of the present century—and we may be saying the same thing 92 years from now.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-10014-8

Page Count: 912

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2008

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