Posts Tagged ‘Roberto Bolaño’

The astonishing productivity of Roberto Bolaño: he knew that the clock was running out fast

Friday, December 20th, 2019

Ann Kjellberg‘s The Book Post is sharing some of its subscriber material as a special Christmas present for all of us. Here’s an excerpt from one, by novelist Àlvaro Enrigue, on the astonishing productivity of Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) whose works are still being discovered, uncovered, with no end in sight.

It begins:

Not long after the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño died unexpectedly of kidney failure in 2003—an illness only he and his close relatives and friends knew about—his editor, the legendary Catalonian publisher Jorge Herralde, made public that the author had left in his custody five finished interlinked novels as a sort of life insurance for his child. Those novels became the monumental volume, published as 2666, that cemented his international recognition as the alpha writer of Latin America—even if this recognition arrived only as a literary afterlife. As the years went by, it emerged that those were not the only works he had left unpublished. Nine posthumous books later—some still missing from English—I wonder if we are any closer to seeing Roberto Bolaño’s computer drive run dry. Considering the literary quality of The Spirit of Science Fiction, now coming to American bookstores, it seems we are still far from the moment when Bolaño’s emails and grocery lists hit the market. …

The Mexican writer Juan Villoro, who was close friends with Bolaño, has written about the delirious and very late phone calls he received when they were both living in Catalonia: Bolaño would report, to Villoro’s disbelief, on having spent the night writing another novel. Bolaño knew that his clock was counting down faster than the others’, and he wrote with the same rush and desperation with which his characters experience their youth.

Read the rest here. The Book Post is a by-subscription book review service, bringing book reviews by distinguished and engaging writers direct to your inbox. As a subscriber you can read the full archive at And subscribe to the Book Post here. Meanwhile, some available offerings during the holiday season:

• Joy Williams on Meister Eckhart
• John Banville on Robert Macfarlane
• Marina Warner on Margaret Atwood
• Calvin Baker on David Blight
• April Bernard on Dreyer’s English
• Geoffrey O’Brien on Marvin Gaye
• Robert Cottrell on John McPhee
• Elaine Blair on Sally Rooney
• Padgett Powell on William Trevor
• Your humble editor on Susan Sontag



Roberto Bolaño on Neruda, Kafka, and the abyss

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

"A certain composure" (Photo: Creative Commons)

After reading my post on Pablo Neruda a few days ago, Daniel Medin sent me this insightful snippet from a Swiss journalist’s  interview of Chilean poet and novelist Roberto Bolaño, in the year before the writer’s death. Neruda is the least of it, really:

Which authors would you number among your precursors? Borges? Cortázar? Nicanor Parra? Neruda? Kafka? In Tres you write: “I dreamt that Earth was finished. And the only human being to contemplate the end was Franz Kafka. In heaven, the Titans were fighting to the death. From a wrought-iron seat in Central Park, Kafka was watching the world burn.”

I never liked Neruda. At any rate, I would never call him my one of precursors. Anyone who was capable of writing odes to Stalin while shutting his eyes to the Stalinist terror doesn’t deserve my respect. Borges, Cortázar, Sábato, Bioy Casares, Nicanor Parra: yes, I’m fond of them. Obviously I’ve read all of their books. I had some problems with Kafka, whom I consider the greatest writer of the twentieth century. It wasn’t that I hadn’t discovered his humor; there’s plenty of that in his books. Heaps. But his humor was so highly taut that I couldn’t bear it. That’s something that never happened to me with Musil or Döblin or Hesse. Not with Lichtenberg either, an author I read frequently who fortifies me without fail.

Musil, Döblin, Hesse wrote from the rim of the abyss. And that is commendable, since almost nobody wagers to write from there. But Kafka writes from out of the abyss itself. To be more precise: as he’s falling. When I finally understood that those had been the stakes, I began to read Kafka from a different perspective. Now I can read him with a certain composure and even laugh thereby. Though no one with a book by Kafka in his hands can remain composed for very long.

Postscript on 1/25:  Thanks to one of our readers, F.H., we have a link for the full interview.  It’s in German, here.