Bolano’s Major and Minor Novels

I usually try not to quibble with small details in otherwise coherent book reviews, but I've seen this more than once, and it deserves to be remarked on. Dwight Garner in the NYT:

Writing last year in The Nation, Natasha Wimmer, the gifted young translator of Roberto Bolaño’s major novels into English . . .

Major novels?

Now it could be that Garner has made a careful study of Bolano's work and concluded that 2666 and The Savage Detectives are in fact his major works. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this is not the case. I suspect that Garner just adopted the same lazy shorthand that Lev Grossman adopted in Time magazine when he offhandedly labeled Bolano's shorter works "minor novels."

No, they're not.

There are, of course, crazy people like James Wood who consider By Night in Chile "his greatest work"–and Wood deserves for integrating into his review of The Savage Detectives an explanation of why he believes this.

Regardless of whatever Bolano book you consider the best, there's no reason that his shorter novels should be labeled "minor works." By Night in Chile, Distant Star, and Nazi Literature in the Americas, short as they might be compared to TSD and 2666, are absolutely not minor works. They are, after all, what established Bolano as a writer to be reckoned with and that made the later books possible.

Recent Posts

Criticism Isn't Free

CR is dedicated to thoughtful, in-depth criticism without regard to what's commercially appealing. It takes tens of hours each month to provide this. Please help make this sort of writing sustainable, either with a subscription or a one-time donation. Thank you!


Got Something To Say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Perhaps Wood’s elevation of By Night in Chile to the status of Bolano’s “best” was a reflection of the reviewer’s unconscious sympathy with its reactionary narrator.

The Latin American Mixtape

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

Shop though these links = Support this site

Copyright © 2015. Powered by WordPress & Romangie Theme.