‘A Literary Adventure’ by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Chris Andrews

Bolaño, a Chilean, has been described by The New Yorker as the greatest Latin American writer of his generation, but he spent more than half of his life in Barcelona, having endured torture and imprisonment under the Pinochet regime. It was in Barcelona that he wrote his monumental novel 2666, while awaiting a liver transplant. Unfortunately he died before its publication – in 2003, at the age of fifty – and before an avalanche of acclaim and accolades came his way.

Bolaño, who once said, “I could live under a table reading Borges”, has elements in common with other Borges-inspired novelists such as Enrique Vila-Matas and Javier Marías, except that there is also a sad awareness of the reality of life in Chile, of exile and violence, in his writing. In ‘A Literary Adventure’, a writer, B, is envious of A, his more successful contemporary: “he longs to plant his fist in A’s increasingly prudish face, oozing self-assurance and righteous anger, as if he thought he were the reincarnation of Unamuno or something.” Instead of violence, B takes a more cowardly, writerlyrevenge: he includes an unflattering portrait of A in his novel. To his consternation, though, A writes a flattering review of the novel. More and more fulsome praise from A follows, including of a book that is not yet officially available to reviewers. How did he get it, and what’s he playing at? B becomes obsessed with A, cancels all other plans in order to spend his days stalking A and ends up fearing for his sanity and even his life. A delicious tale of literary paranoia.

First published in Llamadas telefónicas, Anagrama, 1997, translation in Last Evenings on Earth, Harvill Secker, 2007

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