The Chilean writer’s posthumous novellas may be the most autobiographical fiction he wrote, but the uninitiated should seek out his two masterworks first
The executors of the Roberto Bolaño archive have us right where they want us. Like pushers who know we’re hooked enough to keep buying product of diminishing quality, every couple of years they staple together something new from the notebooks, loose papers and computer files Bolaño left behind when he died in 2003 and tack it to the end of his oeuvre. It mightn’t be long before we’re presented with Bolaño: The Complete Shopping Lists or Gauchos at the Forgotten Library: Selected Email Drafts. Not that this scraping of the seemingly bottomless barrel is unwelcome. Like virtually everything the incomparable Chilean wrote, a newly excavated trio of unarguably minor novellas, Cowboy Graves, is companionable, exotic, witty and glamorously suggestive.
One drawback to the continued publication of posthumous works, some of them in a clearly unfinished state, is that the newcomer might take them as a starting point and, not seeing what the fuss is about, thereafter steer clear of Bolaño. In lieu of a colour-coded schema marking out the canonical from the supplementary, we ought to diligently steer the Bolaño-curious towards the two masterworks, 2666 and The Savage Detectives, or the short story collections, or the better non-posthumous short novels such as Nazi Literature in the Americas or Distant Star. Once addicted, they can rummage deep in the barrel like the rest of us.