The National has just run my review of Between Parentheses, the collection of 99% of Bolano’s nonfiction writings. (Also see my Between Parentheses reading list, which has become quite popular of late.)
As the review shows, this was a book I was deeply mixed about. I completely understand the impulse to collect all Bolano’s nonfiction, but this would have been a much better volume if the editors had trimmed back the fat.
That said, I also felt that this book had some more interesting problems, problems that went beyond there mere inclusion of uninspired work that was clearly written for pay. For more on that, read the review. Here a quote:
They also point towards the quality shared by most of the worthwhile items in this volume: they are carried by Bolaño’s inimitable voice. It is that voice that allows Bolaño to get away with a line like “the best thing about Latin America is its suicides, voluntary or not”. Such a sentiment, which might otherwise be offensive or nonsensical, takes on a new logic in the context created by Bolaño’s non-fiction voice, articulating a version of the truth that one finds more and more commonly in the works of Bolaño’s friends and peers, among them Enrique Vila-Matas and Javier Cercas. It is a voice distinguished from the novels by its willingness to play games with the line between fiction and non-fiction, yet similar in that Bolaño launders his own thoughts through a heavy wash of irony.
Where that voice begins to suffer is in the masses of Bolaño’s newspaper commentary, a form he seemed to have varying degrees of interest in. Such writing makes up the bulk of Between Parentheses, and Echevarría has done yeoman service in corralling the chaos of Bolaño’s journalistic writings, along with sundry other work, into headings like “Scenes” and “The Brave Librarian”. The vagueness of these headings gives some indication of how loosely this work cleaves together, as well as its fundamental unsuitability for publication in book form.
The book’s fat middle – a 126-page expanse simply called Between Parentheses – collects the columns Bolaño wrote in three stints between 1999 and his death in 2003. As Echevarría admits, his newspaper column was something Bolaño had mixed feelings about, and it shows.