`Between Parentheses' is the closest we will ever get to an autobiography from the Chilean writer Roberto Bolano and this would be true even if he was still alive, the short piece `Memoirs' (p122) leaves us in no doubt as to his opinion of the form. Bolano (as we learn from the introduction) always intended to produce a book collecting together his various writings and he even came up with the title.
It has taken me almost a month to read this book, not because it is difficult, dry or boring but simply because there is so much in it, so much to take in `Between Parentheses' could be subtitled `Life the Universe and Everything according to Bolano'. In one article he may be travelling to make a speech or judge a fiction competition and in another he is on the beach with his son or buying a video game. He tackles obscure Latin American poets, Robert Harris, Philip K Dick, Vargas Llosa and '84 Charing Cross Road' (who/which he liked) and Isabel Allende and Paulo Coelho (who he didn't) with the same engaging, if opinionated, style. His descriptions of the sea-side town of Blanes on the Costa Brava - where he lived - make me want to visit there and see the place so evocatively described for myself. There are articles on suicide, pastry cooks, Hell's Angels, planes and artists, but the overarching theme no matter what the subject, is his love of literature and reading, the final sentence of his short `Self-Portrait' is `I am much happier reading that writing'.
I did feel a bit sad reading it, not because it is a sad book in itself but because I knew that he was dying when he wrote much of it and the interview that concludes the volume took place shortly before he died in 2003. However, in spite of this it is an entertaining and joyful read that celebrates life and literature.
Any fan of Bolano should read this, as the quote on the cover says it is `Like sitting on a barstool, next to Bolano, the jukebox playing dirty flamenco', I almost feel that I have met him now, and in a way I have. It is a book for anyone who enjoys reading and like me you may find yourself looking up some of the authors he mentions. It is also a book for aspiring writers as it does not sugar coat the profession or make it seem like an easy way to fame and fortune.
I was heartened to read a comment he makes about `Monsieur Pain' when commenting on his published works as I enjoyed the novel but found it hard to say exactly what it was about. According to Bolano the `plot is indecipherable'. Opinionated and irascible he might be but also knowledgeable, entertaining, thought provoking and often very funny. I can confidently say that this is a book I will be dipping into for a long time to come.