In spite of everything, his life was happy. It’s hard not to be happy, he used to say, in Buenos Aires, which is a perfect blend of Paris and Berlin, although if you look closely it’s more like a perfect blend of Lyon and Prague. Every day he got up at the same time as his children, had breakfast with them and dropped them off at school. He spent the rest of the morning reading at least two newspapers; and, after a snack at eleven (consisting of basically cold cuts and sausage on buttered french bread and two or three little glasses of Argentine or Chilean wine, except on special occasions, when the wine was, naturally, French), he took a siesta until one.
I have the immense 2666 by Bolano sitting on my book shelf, waiting patiently for me to immerse myself in it’s hundreds and hundreds of pages but I couldn’t face it just yet, not after just finishing After the Ice, so I bought The Insufferable Gaucho for a smaller slice of Bolano.
I always find short stories dark, I don’t know why, perhaps the way they finish but clearly not at the end, and that’s after they don’t really start at the beginning either. They are like finding an old photograph randomly, all you have is that one shot, and you have to make sense of it all, create the before and after try to find any sort of context from it. Or you don’t, it could just be me. Despite this I still love reading them, plus my love of Bolano meant I was always going to be picking this up.
It starts with Jim, and what is there to say except it’s short, and dark, despite being set in the blazing daylight and featuring a fire eater. As always, I was left wondering what or who the inspiration was for that, or what line of Bolano’s imagination twanged to produce it.
The Insufferable Gaucho – How not to grow old gracefully, the well known story of giving up the city life for retirement in the country, but with a bit of crazy thrown in, the bit where Pereda walks into the bar on his horse is brilliant. The end intimating that he had become something of a savage out in the pampas, not suitable for city life, or perhaps that was his natural self restrained all those years in the civilised strait jacket.
Police Rat – A brilliant noir detective story but set in a colony of rats. I loved this, and will confess the blurb on the back about it was the main reason I picked up the book. It was dark but such a simple twist on a detective story, creating an extremely believable life of a rat colony. Pepe the Cop works a case that puzzles and concerns him and at the denouement, he contemplates a code that once broken, seemingly indicates the end of the rat species.
Alvaro’s Rousselot’s Journey – Another simple premise made haunting and ephemeral by Bolano’s eloquent hand. A small time writer travels to Paris to meet the film maker who has used his books for the basis of some of his popular movies. After using the contacts of his old journalist friend and falling in with a French prostitute Rousselot finally meets the film maker, with an unexpected response.
Two Catholic Tales – Written in an almost experimental style, two very different stories with a crucial link that differs completely from each side.
There are a couple of essays put in as well, which I struggled to keep up with, a seemingly random, but actually organised, stream of thought from Bolano as he contemplated his illness.
I enjoyed this brief excursion into Bolano’s world, it’s always easy to slide in and ride the wave of his easy prose that sweeps you up and engulfs you as he paints wonderful stories.
A few days later however, the Argentine economy collapsed. Accounts in American dollars were frozen, and those who hadn’t moved their capital (or their savings) offshore suddenly discovered that they had nothing left, except perhaps a few bonds or bank bills – just looking at them was enough to give you goosebumps – vague promises inspired in equal parts by some forgotten tango and the words of the national anthem.