Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bolaño’s Last, Great Secret

May 7, 2012 -- RBM has an essay on Roberto Bolaño and The Secret of Evil (April 2012) over at The Millions. This might be the great hypnotist's last original collection, and while it doesn't measure up to Last Evenings on Earth (2007), which followed Bolaño's posthumous debut in The New Yorker, there is plenty to behold. Along with a dozen sketches from computer files that publisher New Directions says he was working on at the time of his death, April's release includes longer stories that occasionally read as essays. Or is it the other way around? Here's more on that question from “Bolaño's Last, Great Secret.” The excerpt begins with a quotation from Bolaño's “Labyrinth,” whose narrator is preoccupied with a photograph.
"They're sitting around a table. It's an ordinary table, made of wood, perhaps, or plastic, it could even be a marble table on metal legs, but nothing could be less germane to my purpose than to give an exhaustive description of it." 
What Bolaño's last masterpiece does proceed to describe, with East Germanic voyeurism, is the web of relationships on display. Why? Because (1) unlike many tableside portraits in Paris, this image was not intended for a magazine spread; and (2) because, importantly, not everyone is paying attention to the photographer. Two of the women pictured gaze off-camera, in the same direction. They might be preoccupied with an object of affection and it's precisely this quality of deduction that fuels Bolaño’s narrative. 
What of the photo itself? Unfortunately for readers, it can't be found in The Secret of Evil. But it did appear in The New Yorker's publication of “Labyrinth,” spread right across the opening pages. What more can be said of the seated figures, we begin to wonder?
 To read RBM's essay in full, visit this permalink.

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