Roberto Bolaño — By Night in Chile

This is going to start quite a bit of Bolaño reading over the next few days, as I’ve finished my library books and have gotten up to his place on the shelf. Hopefully all of the gushing won’t get tiring; I just really enjoy all of his work and admire him as a writer. Anyway, this is the first of those re-reads, and coincidentally, the first of his books to be translated into English, By Night in Chile.

The book takes the form of one long paragraph (yes, the entire book) the deathbed rant or confession of a failed priest named Urrutia. In this hallucinatory spiel, in which Urrutia descends into a kind of madness, his memories faulty and suspect, you can see, again, how Bolaño so completely inhabits the voices of his characters, at once recognizably the author, but unmistakeably these mad creations that flow from his pen.

Urrutia’s complicity in Pinochet’s regime, the scathing take-down of a man who completely escapes into art in order to avoid the horrors surrounding him, can be seen as a bit of a castigation of the author himself. The night in Chile is a nightmare-filled night, and at the end, when you emerge from Urrutia’s rant, you feel drained and unsure quite what happened, the implacable effect of that flow of words like the literary equivalent of a death gasp.


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