Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Skating Rink

If one were to believe Amazon, the release date for the newest translated Bolaño book is tomorrow, August 28, 2009. But I have heard similar things regarding New Directions books in the past. I bought The Skating Rink last week, knowing that the press (the best going, if you ask me) likes to drop their titles early, especially those that will certainly sell. As of last night, it has been read. My quick review is as follows:

This is the first novel Bolaño wrote. One might expect something loose and slight, the solipsistic self-mythologizing that is part and parcel of the first novel (though this may be more of an USA thing). To be sure, there are elements in the book that parallel the author’s biography. Bolaño did arrive in Spain a broke poet from Mexico, and he did get a job as the night watchman in a campground. Otherwise, the novel seems to be less concerned with autobiography and more concerned with mimicking the detective novels that would continue to influence Bolaño throughout his career. While the story is fairly simple (deceptively, at times), it hints at the larger achievements that followed. This is not to say that The Skating Rink is a bad book, or even “lesser Bolaño.” The novel is tight, well crafted, and full of the trademarks (broke poets, murder, corrupt officials, desire) that mark a lot of Bolaño’s fiction. What it lacks are the digressions that make so many of the author’s other works interesting (or infuriating, depending on your taste). The translation (artfully done by the always reliable Chris Andrews) allows English readers to glimpse the early seeds of Bolaño’s vision sprouting—a more than worthwhile spectacle. As noted all over the web, New Directions is releasing translations of the remainder of Bolaño’s works. Thankfully it will only be a few months until Monsieur Pain comes out (which, along with a book of Bolaño’s essays, I’m dying to read). More on that then.

Thanks, as always, for your time. Back to the salt mines.