Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Distant Star

I decided it was finally time to go back to Roberto Bolaño after a few years: I started this blog with a series of posts on 2666 for a group read, and toward the end asked if anyone had suggestions for where to go next. Really, I had planned to take a break but didn’t think it would be this long before I got to another. Going back to that post and the recommendations now, and looking at the blurbs for a few options, I wound up choosing Distant Star (trans. Chris Andrews, 2004).

This much shorter novel follows the narrator’s experiences before, during, and after the Chilean coup that brought Pinochet to power, focused on his encounters with and 3rd-hand knowledge of Carlos Wieder. Wieder travels in the same poetic circles as the narrator before the coup, then rises to fame as a fascist poet before suddenly disappearing after a show that makes all too apparent the brutality suffered under Pinochet. Wieder is Ezra Pound crossed with a serial killer, his poetry etching Latin across the sky (as in: skywriting) while on the ground he tracks down and murders all the women (but one) associated with the poetry groups he frequented before the war.

The novel, like Bolaño’s other work I would say, is less about the killer than everyone else, all those whose reaction to the dictatorship is to avoid the problem and move to Europe. The narrator, notably, doesn’t even seek out information about Wieder, having it fed to him by a friend who won’t stop writing letters about Wieder and then brought into a search for Wieder by a detective. And yet, he doesn’t really resist these intrusions: he doesn’t want to know, but he does. He just doesn’t want to have to do anything about it.

I found myself engrossed by the first half of the novel, less interested in the second half. I wonder, though, if that is not partially a reaction to the narrator’s increasing distance from the action even when he is involved. The novel gains a lot of momentum from the curiosity spurred by Wieder’s initial indecipherability where his disappearance does not: it is narratively and emotionally anticlimactic, exactly what you want but bringing none of the relief. So perhaps my disenchantment as the novel wore on was part of the point. In any case, Distant Star is short enough to be well worth the read.

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