I've heard it might be more enjoyable to start with the little Bolanos before moving on to his monster works, so that's what I've done. Monsieur Pain is fast, fun, and French. Well, it's set in France anyway. A brief novel by a younger Bolano that hints, I'm sure, at things to come. Based on real people, but not really. A detective novel, but not really. Paris in the 1930's. The central character -- an aging war veteran with burned-out lungs turned mesmerist who I sort of envision as a sadder and more corporeal version of Dr. Strange -- is a lot of fun. The book itself was fast and okay. Promising seems to be the consensus. My favorite part was a the epilogue, or series of epithets ending the book in a Six Feet Under manner, all packed with a strangeness and unlikely humanity that should have permeated the whole book.
The Third Reich, another early work, posthumously published, was longer, calmer, more eery, and much more fleshed out. It's about a German board game champion whose stay at Barcelonan resort goes on much longer than anticipated. Kind of a mix of Death in Venice and The Vanishing told in the narcotizing prose of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Recommended!
Murphy. Watt. Seriously. What the fuck, man.
I'm sorry, but early Beckett is bad, bad, bad -- bordering on terrible. I had high hopes going in, given the effusive reviews on sites like amazon and good reads. But....no. Clearly a pale imitation of the writers that enthralled him (Joyce, Proust, the proto-surrealists) but lacking the charm, the know-how, or even the insight into what made those works great. The academics reviewing these books are wrong. And clearly -- clearly -- viewing them from the lens of later Beckett -- that handsome silvery haired man that just looks so TORTURED and DEEP right there in his turtleneck -- and not meeting them on their own terms. It's a shame more people seem to read these than the novels of Flann O'Brien, equally in thrall to Joyce, but skilled, capable, and funny -- actually funny. Academics. I want to tear their eyes out.
The Voice Imitator, by Thomas Bernhard. A re-read. A short book of about a hundred-ish little short stories, a lot of them inspired by newspaper clippings, this one has a lot in common with Felix Feneon's Novels in Three Lines, as well as Russell Edson, and probably more modern small press short short writing Americans than you can shake a stick at. Also might be the only Bernhard book with paragraphs.
Your reviews and general commentary are all delightful. Not sure if you will reach the target this year though, another 40 to go. Will look forward to having you added to the true Styleforum intellectuals in 2014. Skrew the academics.
As for Bolano, I enjoyed the 2 short novels Distant Star and By Night in Chile. But 2666 is definitely on another level, not only size-wise but also in ambition, scope and ultimate reader satisfaction. It is surreal and very strange; partly brilliant, partly tedious but always unsettling. I think it is a must-read.
I will try some of his other shorter works as well but I doubt anything will equal 2666. I am still wondering about the meaning of the title. And of the whole 1,000 or so pages.