Despite being a week behind with my reading I’m still enjoying the readalong and intend to post about the appropriate weeks even if I have to do so at delayed times. So while the others have already commented on week 2 and are now reading week 3, I’m going to start at the very beginning.
Judith of Leeswammes has posted a summary of the first 77 pages (3 to 79). There are spoilers so look away now if you need to.
This week, we read the following
Section I The Part About the Critics
Week 1. Pages 3-79 (77 pages) (about half-way through the first section)
The critics are four professors or students of German literature with a special interest in an obscure contemporary German writer called Benno von Archimboldi. None of the scolars have ever encountered this writer in real life.
Pelletier is from France, Piero Morini is from Italy, Manuel Espinoza from Spain, and the youngest and only woman, Liz Norton from England.
Initially, the four only meet at meetings and conferences about German literature, but Pelletier and Espinoza both start a relationship with Norton and they know this about each other. When Liz Norton is seeing yet another man, a colleague from her own university, the other two are not happy.
During a conference in Hamburg, Pelletier and Espinoza decide to visit the publishing house of Archimboldi where they meet the owner, Frau Bubis. She has met Archimboldi and is willing to tell them (a little) about the author. Still, the two men are unsatisfied with the amount of information they get from her.
One day, Liz has invited the two men to her house in London and she tells them she wants to stop seeing them. When they go out for dinner in the evening, a taxi driver of Middle Eastern nationality, accuses Liz of being a whore as she is out with two men at the same time. Pelletier and Espinoza get angry and beat the taxi driver unconscious.
Did you enjoy the story so far? Was it what you expected?
I found the story fascinating and it was nothing like I expected. There are parts of it that remind me of the continental and practical tone of Saramago and others bring to mind the self-involved academic characters of David Lodge. I find stories about academia to be comforting luckily, blame it on my penchant for higher education.
The author uses his language quite beautifully and unexpectedly. For example, see the following description:
“A woman who didn’t cling to the edge of the abyss but plunged into it with curiosity and elegance. A woman who plunged into the abyss sitting down” p.28 about Mrs Bubis. The description is quite visual but what does it mean? She does not get aroused even by terror? so calm and detached that she can fall headlong while not lifting a muscle?
A reference to the abyss is mentioned again in relation to Liz this time, on page 65. “Norton’s eyes were closed, as if she needed to breathe the night air of London, and then she opened her eyes and looked down, into the abyss, and saw them.”
The warnings are interspersed throughout the pages of some impending terror: the Medusa on p.69
the self-mutilation of the artist on Liz’s street as a self portrait p.53
Morini’s dream of Liz as the bearer of terror pp.46-47
Pelletier’s dream p.78-79 of the bathers waiting for something
p.74 – another long sentence to give it a dream like quality – action that doesn’t stop but at the same time gentle “much less did he expect the hail of Iberian kicks” for such a shockingly violent act.
What did you think of the long sentences? Did you have problems reading them? Do you think there was a purpose to them? Why only for a number of pages, why did the writer not use them through-out?
Bolaño appears to use the long sentences in scenes where stories are told. This gives a different style to those sections, they flow in entirely different ways as if , to compare it to a movie, it was all one take rather than a section comprised of different shots. I really liked his use of it especially in the scene about the gaucho and the horse races. We know from the neverending sentence that he is not describing current reality.
The action starts at the beginning and ends with the full stop. There is a tender kind of completion with it. If a full stop is meant to indicate where the reader, if reading aloud, were to breathe, then by the end of some of these descriptions he or she would be a lot more than breathless. If the writing were less languid I would say that Bolaño is trying to provide a frantic tone but without changing his style of writing.
I’m looking forward to the next twelfth of the book.