This novel is narrated in the first person by the ill and ageing Father Sebastian Urrutia Lacroix over the course of a single evening. Father Urrutia believes that he is dying, and in a feverish monologue, with a not entirely reliable memory, he revisits some of the crucial events of his life as a Chilean priest, member of Opus Dei, a literary critic and a mediocre poet.
`Words emerging from one dream and entering another.'
In his delirium, Father Urrutia sees various characters, both real and imaginary, as monsters. Monsters they may be, many of them, in life as well as in fiction. As Father Urrutia's monologue ranges from Opus Dei to falconry, to private lessons on Marxism for General Augusto Pinochet, the `wizened youth' reminds him of his shortcomings. And during this long night, while we hear Father Urrutia's `confession' and feel his need to find himself without blame in the events he describes, the imagery signals differently. If the `wizened youth' represents both dormant conscience and repressed consciousness, then it is not a burden for Father Urrutia to bear alone.
`One has a moral obligation to take responsibility for one's actions, and that includes one's words and silences...'
The Chilean literary establishment is also complicit: how else can a house used by those with literary aspirations double as a torture centre? This may be satire, but it is highly disturbing as well.
`.. a white shirt as immaculate as my hopes..'
I am currently reading my way through Roberto Bolaño's work. This novel was first published in 2000, and was the first of Bolaño's novels to be published in English (in 2003).