Before cracking open this new book, even as long-time fans of the Chilean author, we were suffering from Bolaño fatigue. The spate of Bolaño books published in the past five years could fill a bookshelf. Yet Between Parentheses is the only collection of non-fiction available, and what a refreshing surprise it is to hear Bolaño in his own words, especially after the posthumous knighting he received as his generation’s Gabriel García Márquez or Jorge Luis Borges.
In his introduction, Ignacio Echevarria, Bolaño’s long-time editor, illustrates how he brought together Bolaño’s newspaper columns, scattered prefaces, meditations and speeches, all written over the past five years of his life. Taken together, they make up ‘a surprisingly rounded whole,’ and ‘the closest thing, among all his writings, to a kind of fragmented autobiography. ’
It turns out Bolaño was just as prolific a man of letters and opinions as he was of innovative fiction. A searing critic of the literary establishment, he reflects on a virtual who’s who of South American authors, praising some and lashing out at others. In between are ruminations on topics as diverse as Cormac McCarthy, civilisation and sketches of Blanes, the coastal town in Spain where he spent 20 years before dying of liver failure at the age of 50 in 2003.
The collection closes with a reprint of the final interview with the author, which ran in the Mexican edition of Playboy: ‘To be exiled is not to disappear, but to shrink, to slowly or quickly get smaller and smaller until we reach our real height, the true height of the self. Swift, master of exile, knew this.’ So did Roberto Bolaño.