As the pool of Roberto Bolaño's as yet untranslated (or unpublished) work draws ever shallower, fans of the late Chilean novelist and poet are left hungering for whatever wayward morsels still remain. While those eager to devour something as bountiful as The Savage Detectives
are likely to be left unsated, Bolaño's residual writings nonetheless offer a complementary (if not integral) glimpse into his towering and singular body of work. So it is with The Secret of Evil
, a collection of 19 mostly unfinished pieces found amongst the files on Bolaño's computer following his death in 2003.
Ignacio Echevarría, Spanish critic and Bolaño's literary executor, penned a preliminary note to The Secret of Evil
that outlines the provenance of the book's contents. Despite the undated nature of these orphaned pieces, it appears that Bolaño was working on them in the months preceding his death. Echevarría offers insight into the often problematic charge of determining which of Bolaño's stories or items had
, in fact, already been completed:
The inconclusive nature of Bolaño's novels and stories makes it difficult to decide which of the unpublished narrative texts should be regarded as finished and which are simply sketches. The task is further complicated by Bolaño's progressive radicalization of what I have called his poetics of inconclusiveness. And to make the distinction more difficult still, Bolaño rarely began to write a story without giving it a title and immediately establishing a definite tone and atmosphere; his writing, which is always captivating, virtually never stumbles or hesitates.
Despite the arduousness of Echevarría's attempts to clarify a particular piece's state of completion, the writing in The Secret of Evil
never reads as if it were hastily constructed, but rather, at times, simply unfinished. Some of the included stories may well have an ambiguous ending, while others leave off in a way that seemingly indicates that they were abandoned pending resumption at a later date.
Of the 19 pieces that compose The Secret of Evil
, three have appeared previously in English translation. "Vagaries on the Literature of Doom" (a speech about the state of post-Borgesian Argentine literature), "Sevilla Kills Me" (an unfinished, if somewhat similarly themed, address), and "Beach" (progenitor of the "Bolaño was once a heroin junkie" speculations since debunked by his wife, as well as by friend and fellow author Enrique Vila-Matas) were all published in Between Parentheses
. As with much of Bolaño's writing, the line between fictional creation and autobiographical sketch blur easily, as is evident in "I Can't Read," a "story" about his son Lautaro's humorous antics during Bolaño's first return trip to his native Chile in nearly two and a half decades. "I Can't Read" demonstrates a lighter, more playful (and ever self-effacing) Bolaño, and is one of the book's stronger pieces, despite remaining, sadly, forever unfinished.
Three of the stories in The Secret of Evil
, "The Old Man of the Mountain," "Death of Ulises," and "The Days of Chaos," feature recurrent Bolaño character (and autobiographical alter ego) Arturo Belano, two of which portray him well beyond his heady, itinerant Savage Detectives
years. Daniela de Montecristo (of Nazi Literature
fame) makes a brief appearance in her namesake story, "Daniela," wherein she recalls the loss of her virginity at age 13. "Scholars of Sodom" (in two versions) imagines V. S. Naipaul upon a visit to Buenos Aires. "Labyrinth" is vaguely evocative of the first part of 2666
, "The Part about the Critics." "Muscles," Echevarría surmises, is "probably the beginning of an unfinished novel, perhaps an early version of Una Novelita Lumpen
" (a 2002 novella yet to be rendered into English). The collection's title story is amongst the best (despite its brevity) of those selected for inclusion, and offers a seedy, nocturnal milieu that Bolaño was so adept at creating. The most surprising of the stories is "The Colonel's Son," a nightmarish tale wherein the narrator recounts a chilling zombie movie he viewed on television the night before.
The Secret of Evil
will appeal most greatly to those already won over by Bolaño's extraordinary body of work. Neophytes may well find this a difficult collection to make sense of, as the nature of the book lends itself to those long since familiar with the style and themes that characterize the Chilean's masterful fiction. This is most certainly not the place for a newcomer to start, but for the devotee, a subterranean expanse of narrative possibilities and literary what-ifs await. Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A North American journalist in Paris is woken at 4 a.m. by a mysterious caller with urgent information. For V. S. Naipaul the prevalence of sodomy in Argentina is a symptom of the nation's political ills. Daniela de Montecristo (familiar to readers of Nazi Literature in the Americas
) recounts the loss of her virginity. Arturo Belano returns to Mexico City and meets the last disciples of Ulises Lima, who play in a band called The Asshole of Morelos. Belano's son Gerónimo disappears in Berlin during the Days of Chaos in 2005. Memories of a return to the native land. Argentine writers as gangsters. Zombie schlock as allegory...
The various pieces in the posthumous Secret of Evil extend the intricate, single web that is the work of Roberto Bolaño.
"This engaging posthumous collection from the prolific Chilean novelist and poet Bolaño (2666) comprises the (largely unedited) vignettes, short stories, and speeches found on the author's computer at the time of his death in 2003. Characters and themes from his novels reappear in these stories: from 'The Savage Detectives's' Arturo Belano, to musings on the state of Latin American literature, to the lives of tortured artists, including a disappeared British musician and a group of intellectuals in Paris caught in a 'complex and subtle web of relations.' Bolaño's quiet, sparse prose is punctuated by moments of eruptive violence, including terrifying scenes from a disturbingly autobiographical 'B-grade schlock' zombie film, or a journalist covering a gruesome murder, imagining herself in the victim's stead. Bolaño crafts characters isolated from their surroundings and compellingly observing the humanity around them a teenager 'dissatisfied with everything' in his life stays up late and listens to his upstairs neighbors having sex in 'Colonia Lindavista,' while a recovering heroin addict spends his days observing beachgoers 'with silent tears running down his face' in 'Beach.' As the narrator of the titular story declares, his tale is 'incomplete, because stories like this don't have an ending;' nevertheless, Bolaño's writing is reliably intriguing." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"One of those rare writers who write for a future time. We have only begun to appreciate his strange, oblique genius." John Banville
"A once-in-a-blue-moon rhapsodic reading experience." Johnathan Lethem
"Bolaño has joined the immortals." The New York Times
"Bolaño was no political pamphleteer. And yet his characters' angst and desires play out against the canvas of history. With his raw, barely controlled emotions, and a talent for mining the pathos, beauty, and even humor amid the horror of ordinary life, his fiction soared." The Washington Post
"Bolaño crafts characters isolated from their surroundings and compellingly observing the humanity around them. Bolaño's writing is reliably intriguing." Mac Margolis The Daily Beast
"Paragraphs demand to be reread, because they give you the feeling that you've missed something. You did miss something, but you won't find it in the printed words. It's the space around the words where you'll find the answer." The A.V. Club
"Each of the tales boast an aspect of Bolaño's prodigious talent: his ability to leap into a character's skin, quickly, with compelling confidence; or his facility for making sinister personalities and surreally uncomfortable situations feel all too plausible." The Coffin Factory
"It's a glimpse into the process of a totemic artistic figure." The A.V. Club
"Poetry is dangerous; that's the message." The Coffin Factory
"Bolaño succeeds in conjuring the unknowable empty spaces that an obsessive mind can imagine into the private lives of others." The Rumpus
A collection that gathers everything Bolaño was working on before his untimely death.
About the Author
Author of 2666 and many other acclaimed works, Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) was born in Santiago, Chile, and later lived in Mexico, Paris, and Spain. He has been acclaimed “by far the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time” (Ilan Stavans, The Los Angeles Times),” and as “the real thing and the rarest” (Susan Sontag). Among his many prizes are the extremely prestigious Herralde de Novela Award and the Premio Rómulo Gallegos. He was widely considered to be the greatest Latin American writer of his generation. He wrote nine novels, two story collections, and five books of poetry, before dying in July 2003 at the age of 50.Chris Andrews has won the TLS Valle Inclán Prize and the PEN Translation Prize for his New Directions translations of Roberto Bolaño. A poet who lives and teaches in Australia, he has translated eight Bolaño books and three novels by César Aira for New Directions.