Amulet by Roberto Bolano

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Amulet by Roberto Bolano

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: This is the latest translated work, published posthumously, of Bolano, the exceptionally talented Chilean author. A short but imaginative monologue, this in time will no doubt take it's rightful place alongside the true greats of Spanish American writing.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330511834

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The novel is set in the late 1960s, a time of political unrest and tension in Mexico. The narrator and protagonist seek refuge when the army invades the university. Ensconced in a fourth floor w.c., she commences to recollect her earlier life and experiences amongst the literati of Mexico, and the world of academia. She frequently refers to herself as the mother of Mexican poetry, and this is indeed an apt, if somewhat generous, description, as she does emerge as a maternal figure. She is an engaging character, tolerated, rather than liked by her acquaintances, and it's her very lack of sophistication which makes her such a real and believable narrator. Poetry is her main love in life - she lives and breathes it, and all else fades into insignificance for her.

Auxilio spends some twelve days, locked up with her books - violence and horror rage around her, but she remains aloof from it all. A forewarning of this was given to us in the opening sentences:

This is going to be a horror story. A story of murder, detection and horror. But it won't appear to be, for the simple reason that I am the teller. Told by me, it won't seem like that. Although in fact it is the story of a terrible crime.

What a marvellous and lucid beginning - immediately we are sent spiralling into a world where the beauty of literature is juxtaposed with the violence of Spanish American politics. Although she avoids expressing her terror, she must nonetheless have felt it, and in a way the short glimpses we have of the violence and menace, are more tangible for their very briefness. For example, whilst the building was being searched, I was literally holding my breath! I knew she wouldn't be found, but nonetheless the threat was palpable.

Overall the narrator's voice is strong, and in some respects it feels as if she gives us insights into what it is to be an author, and the creative process this entails. The entire novel is constructed around literary creation, its craft and execution, and herein lies its true strength. The opposing wanderings around the city are deliberately surreal by contrast. Or - did any of her meetings actually happen, were they drug- or drink-induced hallucinations? Whichever, the atmosphere invoked is truly remarkable, and is as enjoyable in its own way as the musings on poets and poetry.

Although this is a short novel it will stay with me for a long time to come, and has certainly inspired me to read the rest of his work. Finally, I have no idea if the translation from the original Spanish is good/accurate or not. But it reads so beautifully, that the translator has done a very fine job. The prose flows melodically, and with a sensuality that would be hard to beat. Highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

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