Roberto Bolano pretty much lived the life he writes about in this book, a multi-style account of what happens to a young, radical group of poets as they age. It starts with a 17 year old who knows poetry techniques but little about life and for a hundred pages or so we follow a diary narrative of his first two months as a member of the visceral realists. That's the radical group of poets, if you're wondering. Then, after his narrative ends, there's a jump into a load of multi-ethnic, first person recollections of the visceral realist's two leaders, mostly from peripheral characters, and even some we've never met before.
It's a bit of a lurch, actually, and for the next hundred or so pages you might find it disappointing. I did...in fact, I was skipping ahead to see if it'd switch back to the 17 year old kid again, as we leave him on a real cliffhanger. But the thing is, Bolano gradually pulls you into the new style and the gift he has for writing as different people with different voices is incredible...really, he writes all sorts, and most of them are all associated with poetry or the arts in some way, so you're getting variety out of a group of people that is usually portrayed as either pretentious or odd.
The best thing to say about this book though, is that it makes you want to be like the two poet leaders, Ulysses Cruz and Arturo Belano (who is obviously the author). They travel without money and without plans and one of them even ends up sleeping in a cave somewhere on the coast of France. Only certain personalities can do this of course, but don't you wish you had the balls to be one of them?