Five Short Novels by Roberto Bolaño For The Busy Reader

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Robert Bolaño was a Chilean author who passed away in 2003 at the age of fifty. The English translations of The Savage Detectives (2007) and 2666 (2008) have resulted in a posthumous cult following for Bolaño, however the lengthy works remain unread on many bookshelves due to sheer intimidation (and time). Are you too busy for a 1000 page novel? Let me offer you five short novels by Bolaño that can be read in a single weekend (or day). Click on the title to buy on Amazon.

Last Evenings On Earth (Original 1997; Translated 2007; 219 pages)

The fourteen short stories of Last Evenings On Earth are a perfect introduction to the style of author. The majority of the narrators are at the proverbial crossroads, and detail the circumstances in which they find themselves. It’s not unusual for a story to be left unresolved, however Bolaño provides enough background on the characters for the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Amulet (Original 1999; Translated 2007; 154 pages)

“This is going to be a horror story.” Amulet is the story of Auxilio Lacouture, a young Mexican woman who hides in a University bathroom during the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City. Bolaño writes in a stream-of-consciousness style as Lacouture looks back on her life, and reflects on the youth of her generation. As her situation intensifies, and the army approaches, the thoughts of Lacouture become more surreal.

By Night In Chile (Original 2000; Translated 2003; 144 pages)

Roberto Bolaño was briefly jailed as a twenty-year-old after the September 11, 1973 Pinochet coup in Chile, and forever detested the bourgeoise crowd who would defend outdated views based solely on “art”. The narrator in By Night In Chile is a man on his deathbed, Father Urrutia, who looks back on his life in regret, and tries desperately to defend himself against criticism. The character allows Bolaño to investigate his youth by speaking through the elder Urrutia.

The Skating Rink (Original 1993; Translated 2009; 198 pages)

The Skating Rink is told through the perspectives of three different men who encounter a famous figure skater. The action takes place in a fictional Spanish town called “Z”, and after the mysterious construction of a skating rink, and subsequent crime, the narrators recount their thoughts about what did or didn’t happen.

The Third Reich (Original 2010; Translated 2011; 360 pages)

Bolaño’s story is based on a real-life war game called “Rise and Decline of the Third Reich.” Udo Berger, a great German war-game mind, returns to a Spanish beach town which he visited as a child. The real-life setting is most likely Blanes, where the author lived the last twenty-five years of his life. Bolaño has created a fascinating character in Udo Berger, along with a severely scarred man known only as “El Quemado.”  The novel was originally written in 1989, and is one of Bolaño’s best, in my opinion. The Third Reich is incredibly funny, highly disturbing at times and offers characters that are mysterious enough to keep you engaged.

Roberto Bolaño has been one of my favorite writers since the day I started The Savage Detectives, and I have traced his footsteps from Mexico City all the way to Blanes, Spain. I highly encourage you to read a few of Bolaño’s shorter novels before tackling The Savage Detectives and 2666.

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4 Responses to Five Short Novels by Roberto Bolaño For The Busy Reader

  1. Nice list. But I have to say that Distant Star most definitely belongs on here. It’s stronger than Amulet, 3rd Reich, and Skating Rink (all of which are great). (It’s also shorter (149 pages) than 3rd Reich by quite a bit, so it fits nicely on this list that way, too.)

    • Thanks David. You are exactly right. It’s been a while since I read Distant Star, and it would have been a nice 5th selection, especially given the length!

      • Bolano in his work reconends tackling the longer, more flawed works of great authors than their shorter, more concise novellas. I couldn’t agree more. Be ambitious and start with 2666 than work your way down, I think the great man would have wanted it that way.

  2. I would recommend 2666 first. As Bolano mentioned several times in his writing, too many people tackle the less flawed, shorter works of great authors instead of their Magnus opus(s). Embrace the flaws that Bolano speaks of (I never found them) and try to reconfigure what the author was always talking about throughout his work.