14 June 2012

A fascinating singularity

WH Staying on the topic of Bolaño for a little longer, what do you make of his extraordinary recent fame in the Anglophone world? I don’t think that when you started working with his writing this would have been the case. Has it got something to do with his sudden death? Or was it inevitable that he would receive the recognition that he has?

CA Back when I started in 2002, Bolaño was already very well known in the Spanish-speaking world because he had won the Rómulo Gallegos Prize for The Savage Detectives. But that didn’t mean he was bound to be well known eventually in other languages. The Germans and the Italians had picked up on him fairly quickly, and, interestingly, the first book they both translated was Nazi Literature in the Americas. When the first couple of English translations, By Night in Chile and Distant Star, came out in England, they weren’t published in America straight away. Those books didn’t go very well at all—they didn’t sell very well—although they got good reviews; there wasn’t much interest. It was only a little bit later with the first book of stories, Last Evenings on Earth, which had been commissioned by Harvill in the UK, but was published first in America by New Directions, that there was a bit of buzz around. Only then did I start to think that the others would be translated, because with the first two I really wasn’t sure there was enough interest.

His premature death also may have had something to do with the excitement around his work, but not that much. He’s a writer who invented a commanding, distinctive style, in the largest sense of the word—a way of organizing experience as well as words—which is a pretty rare achievement. That spoke to many readers, for a number of reasons—I’ve heard, for example, that he is an antidote to the North American model of the professional novelist groomed by creative writing schools. There might be something symptomatic about his success, but I think that the main reason for it is that he is a fascinating singularity.

Chris Andrews interviewed in BOMB.

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